Sussex: Partnership turning trash talk into roadside clean-up

Roadside trash and litter in the right-of-way is the focus of a clean-up effort between Sussex County, the Department of Correction and DelDOT. Delaware State News/Glenn Rolfe

SUSSEX COUNTY — Trash talk in Sussex County has hit the roads and is producing documented results in a partnership between Sussex County government and two state entities – the Department of Correction and Department of Transportation.

In a Jan. 29 update to county council, Michael Costello, Governmental Affairs Manager for Sussex County, reported that in the six-month activity from July through December 2018:

• The county received 41 requests from the public;

• DOC went out and filled about 958 trash bags, covered 82 ½ road miles and collected just under 150 tires from rights-of-way of Sussex County roads;

• From August through December, the county spent total a $13,516 on overtime expenses, which averages to $164 per road mile.

Michael Costello

This initiative with DOC and DelDOT, finalized by a memorandum of understanding in June 2018, was spurred by efforts to address the roadside trash/litter issue.

“On several occasions we have discussed our options and what we can do about the accumulation of trash and litter that accumulate on our roadways. It seems that this ever-present eyesore that needs a long-term solution,” said Mr. Costello. “And although we don’t have jurisdiction and we don’t have a department or staffing to care of that on a fulltime basis we really felt the need that we should do something.”

In the later part of 2017 and early 2018 the county set out to establish a memorandum of understanding with its partners that would help improve the conditions. The MOU provided that the county was able to maintain a list of priorities to be addressed first.

Per the agreement, Sussex County agrees to pay up to $120,000 annually to cover overtime costs for Delaware correctional officers to supervise inmate work crews on supplemental clean-up jobs.

“We first thought of capitalizing on the current partnership between DelDOT and DOC through their litter collection process,” said Mr. Costello. “When staffing is available to supervise work crews the DOC goes out and they pick up the trash and the litter along the roadways.”

Most of those requests are coming through the DelDOT yards, citizens or through the Traffic Management Center up in Smyrna, Mr. Costello said.

“Our focus was to increase the availability of the Department of Correction staffing through the payment of overtime, to supplement the supervision of additional crews for the purpose of roadside trash collection,” said Mr. Costello. “The county through the constable’s office receives requests from the public for clean-up activities. In addition, we have encouraged our own field staff to report problem areas that they observe during the travels while conducting official county business.”

Clean-up of roadside trash and litter in right-of-ways is being undertaken through an agreement between Sussex County and the Department of Correction and Department of Transportation.

County council president Michael Vincent asked how many staff referrals there have been.

Mr. Costello said staff requests are included in the total number of 41 requests, but he had no specific breakdown readily available for the council update.

“Why is it just overtime? Overtime is more money,” said councilman Irwin “I.G.” Burton.

“Well, we first set out to see if we couldn’t fund some fulltime positions. During that exchange of ideas, they initially liked that.
But what if the council wasn’t happy with that, and the Department of Correction already had this fulltime employee that they would have to continue funding, should the process fall through,” Mr. Costello said. “The overtime offer was much more appealing to them.”
“They have a fulltime officer that does this?” Mr. Burton asked.

“This is in addition to their current roadside trash collection. But their current roadside trash collection only takes place when they have the staffing to do it during their normal hours,” said Mr. Costello. “The priority of the Department of Correction is the safety and supervision of their inmates. So, if they are short in the jailhouse that position is going to be used in the jailhouse.
What we are doing is staffing an overtime position that anybody in that organization that wants the overtime, they can grab a crew of detainees or inmates and go and take off our list that we have asked them to use.”

“If you think about the dollar amount, we are paying for one person to supervise an inmate detail of six to eight individuals,” said Mr. Costello. “So, if you contacted a private contractor to send eight people out there to clean up, what do you suppose you might pay for all of that? We’re just paying for the supervision of the detail.”

“This is remediation, but are we doing anything to be proactive, to stop it? I mean … fines?” said councilman John Rieley. “For example, if you pick up a bag of trash and it has names and addresses, mail … do we go and inquire with these people.”

“We don’t do that, sir. That is an investigative action. We don’t have law enforcement within our ranks,” Mr. Costello said. “That belongs to the Department of Natural Resources and Environmental Control.”

“That is a very tough thing to do, though,” said councilman Douglas Hudson. “That bag of trash could have fallen off the back of a legitimate trash vehicle, and to try to prosecute something like that is going to be very tough, unless you find a bunch of bags in one spot.”

Mr. Burton inquired about the perception in the prisons. “Is it like a job they want to do?” he asked.

“I believe so,” Mr. Costello said.

Thus far, all parties are apparently pleased with the workings of the MOU.

“The Department of Correction has been very timely on their reports of activity and showing our new requests on the work schedule for the projects,” Mr. Costello said. “I have contacted the Sussex County Community Correction warden and DelDOT South District engineer, who both report satisfaction with the current workings of this MOU.”

Additionally, DelDOT provides the transportation of bagged trash and the tipping fee, Mr. Costello said.

“Are you satisfied,” Mr. Vincent asked.

“I am. At this point, yes,” said Mr. Costello. “We still need to be working on a long-term solution.”

The county council and Mr. Costello encourage citizens to submit valid requests.

“We encourage our residents to submit requests when they see areas needing attention,” said Mr. Costello. “And we’d like to remind them that this agreement is related to the trash and litter collected in the state’s right-of-way, along roadways in Sussex County, not up on private property.”

Request clean-up

To report a trash/litter problem and submit a clean-up request, visit the Sussex County government website and click on “Request for Litter Cleanup” located at the bottom of the main page.

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