Tuesday, March 10, 2009

Jacquelyn Gets an Answer

A few weeks ago during the monthly cleanup of the Garapan tourist district, one of the volunteers, a student at Saipan Southern High School, confided in me that participating in the cleanup made her really frustrated and angry.

Having done 30 cleanups of Garapan since October 2006, I understood where she was coming from. We clean it up every month, as do a number of other groups including the Department of Parks & Recreation, but it is still a mess when we come back on the first Sunday of every month.

Anyway, I suggested to the student that she write a letter to the editor expressing her frustrations. It was published in the Marianas Variety yesterday.
Letter to the Editor: Stop littering

I AM a sophomore at Saipan Southern High School. Last week I participated in the Beautify CNMI monthly cleanup of Garapan and was terribly frustrated by all the garbage I found in almost every corner. After spending 90 minutes under the hot sun, my partner and I filled up about four huge bags with trash. The majority of this trash consisted of beer bottles, paper plates, and cans — all things that could have easily been disposed of properly.

When I went home, I looked up some information about littering. I found that the CNMI has a Commonwealth Litter Control Act of 1989 (Public Law 6-37) that provides for a $500 fine for littering and that the Division of Environmental Quality, the Mayor’s Office, the Department of Public Works, the Department of Public Safety, the Department of Public Health, the Division of Fish & Wildlife, Coastal Resources Management, the Department of Land and Natural Resources, and the Marianas Visitors Authority all employ litter control officers.

Knowing this information, I wonder how many litter tickets have been issued in the last 12 months?

If our Commonwealth Litter Control Act were enforced, we would have a cleaner island. A cleaner island would benefit tourism and improve the quality of life for everyone who lives here.

I ask that the government enforce our litter law so that people like me don’t have to spend our weekends picking up other people’s garbage. I also realize that the community and businesses are responsible and I ask that they stop littering and put pressure on those who do to stop.

JACQUELYN JOHANNA B. DAVID
San Antonio, Saipan
The Marianas Variety ran a follow up story to the letter in today's paper.
Saipan has litter control officers but littering continues
BY EMMANUEL T. EREDIANO - VARIETY NEWS STAFF

THE litter control officers certified more than two years ago have other full-time jobs in different government agencies and this prevents them from going after violators of the Litter Control Act, Division of Environmental Quality spokeswoman Reina Camacho said.

The litter control officers can issue citations and report violations whenever they witness people dumping trash in public premises, she said.

But littering usually happens either at night or early in the morning — when litter control officers have not yet reported for work, she added.

Camacho said DEQ has only one solid waste enforcement officer who can issue citations to commercial and industrial establishments that violate anti-litter law.

In Sept. 2006, 20 litter control officers were provided citation booklets, summons, sheets for narrative report and the Litter Control Act Complaint report during the signing of the National Public Lands Day Proclamation at American Memorial Park.

They were also provided uniforms — dark blue T-shirts with yellow print on the back.

Those who were certified were personnel of the Division of Environmental Quality, Coastal Resource Management. the Department of Land and Natural Resources, the Department of Public Works, the Saipan Mayor’s Office and the Marianas Visitors Authority.

The officers also went to schools and met with different community groups to discuss the anti-littering law which imposes a maximum fine of $500.

A month later, the officers published a photo of the trash dumped at the 13 Fishermen Memorial Pavilion and warned the people responsible that they would be cited next time.

Camacho, in an interview yesterday, said she did not receive citations from the litter control officers in fiscal year 2008.

But DEQ continues to spearhead monthly cleanups, she added.

The problem, she said, is that “litter bugs” never tire of dumping trash — every time DEQ and volunteers conduct a cleanup, there’s always trash to pick up.

Since the government still has to address its manpower issue in able to fully enforce the law, Camacho said officials may want to consider using surveillance cameras to identify violators.
I'm not going to give a treatise on littering in the CNMI in this blog post, but it does not surprise me that not a single litter citation was handed out in 2008. There are a number of factors contributing to this, number one being the extreme aversion the CNMI government has towards enforcing laws. In many instances the apprehending officer feels bad for the perpetrator and will just let him go. Or the attorney prosecuting the case won't want to push for a stiff sentence. Or the judge will let him off with a $25 fine and time served. And I'm not just talking about littering.

The other problem is that in making enforcing the litter laws everone's job, they in effect made it nobody's job. There are eight government agencies responsible and it is easy for one of them to pass the buck to the next.

At the same time, the Legislature is trying to write revenue generating bills, which is an Orwellian synonym for raising taxes. If the litter laws were enforced, we wouldn't need to increase the cost of doing business by increasing fees.

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