Seeing all the litter - everything from cigarette butts and discarded plastic bottles to shoes, tires and mattresses - in Sumter County makes Erika Williams want to cuss.
Williams, the communications and strategic initiatives manager for Sumter …
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Williams, the communications and strategic initiatives manager for Sumter Economic Development, told a group of about 40 in Swan Lake Visitors Center on Monday night she is a member of the Sumter Litter Alliance because she wants to "clean up Sumter's streets." Cuss.
"Trash sucks," she said after the alliance's first public meeting after forming last fall to solve the issue of Sumter's litter and illegal dumping problem. "And it really impacts the quality of life for everyone here."
Her acronym and associated pep talk made the entire room laugh. About trash. That's a feat by itself.
Other members in the group represent Sumter School District, Sumter County Sheriff's Office, South Carolina Department of Transportation, Greater Sumter Chamber of Commerce, Sumter City Council and Sumter County Council, and Williams said economic development, like the rest of the stakeholders, is impacted negatively when trash is all over the county.
"When we're doing industrial recruitment and we're bringing in companies to the area, it is unfortunate that we lose the interest of some of those companies that could be very lucrative and could raise our per-capita income because they see all the debris in the roadways and also near the industrial parks," she said. "Litter actually impacts morale. It impacts the environment. And it's all of our responsibility. All of our social responsibility.
"We want to not have to have dedicated routes where we show possible businesses where to come. We want to show them the entire county."
After Williams and Nicole Bailey, vice president of operations for the Chamber of Commerce, led a presentation about the alliance's goals and approach to solving the problem, residents and other stakeholders were given a chance to voice concerns and ideas.
"My daughters visited ... they said, 'Mom, this is disgusting. We weren't raised like this,'" one woman said.
Another resident said she sees piles of full trash bags dumped in the tree line near her house, which is in the rural part of the county. You can't see them all the time, but when it rains, the bags roll to the front of the tree line.
A veterinarian in Sumter said she had two people turn down job offers because they didn't want to move to the area after noticing all the trash.
Ideas aired focused on education, community cleanups, making stricter penalties - which the city and county are beginning to work on - and spreading awareness so residents don't become "immune to it because they see it every day."
"Nobody wants to pick up trash. It's not fun. There's nothing fun about it. But it is good fellowship if you're out there talking with your group," said Scott Burkett, a Realtor for ERA Wilder Realty Inc. in Sumter and the brainchild of the alliance. "I recognized [the problem] last year when they cut the grass on [U.S.] 378 coming in from Columbia that it looked like a paper mill, and there was no one cleaning it up. There were no prisoners, no Adopt-A-Highway."
Burkett visited the various groups now involved and began discussions on where the holes were in the county's ability to clean itself up and how to plug them.
Burkett drives around the county a lot through his job in selling property, and he said the trash is "embarrassing."
He said now the group has a three-pronged process - education, litter ordinances and community campaigns.
A Garbage Crawl community cleanup challenge is scheduled for March 24, and Sumter County Sheriff Anthony Dennis is now allowing certain probationers to pick up trash. The local SCDOT is trying to get more groups to commit to Adopt-A-Highway, a program that asks for quarterly cleanups.
"I can't do this on my own," Burkett said. "This is a big project."
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