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Stiffer penalties needed to put a halt to littering

Since 1988, participants in the West Virginia Division of the Adopt-A-Highways program have removed 60,000 pounds of litter from state highways. In Harrison County, volunteers filled 1,400 bags of trash from 100 miles of roadways in 1999.

Those are stunning statistics that shed light on an intractable problem that continues to haunt West Virginia -- littering.

Harrison County Litter Control Chairman Paul Hamrick says roadside littering and illegal dumping is a real problem in this area.

Hamrick pinpointed some trouble spots in Harrison County and listed U.S. Route 19 South near Sunny Croft Country Club; U.S. Route 19 North on Reynolds Siding Hill near the Lumberport Road, the Reynoldsville fire access road off U.S. Route 50 West and Peora Hill.

We don't pretend to know all the reasons why people casually commit this anti-social act, but we hope they reexamine their motivations and cease such an irresponsible practice.

If they don't, it may end up costing them in the long haul.

Hamrick, for one, has been lobbying legislators for tougher fines for littering offenses. He hopes to garner local support for Senate Bill 152 during the next session of the Legislature.

The bill would double the fines for littering and would require people caught in the act to pick up litter for eight hours.

Here is where your help is needed. Citizens should report violators to the proper agency to ensure that the complaint is investigated. Division of Natural Resources Law Enforcement Division Conservation Officer Sgt. Roy E. Cool says each complaint is looked into.

Cool says concerned citizens provide all the information on illegal dumping. He notes that all complaints can't be handled in a timely fashion because the county is short one DNR officer. But he hopes that position can be filled shortly.

"It is the responsibility of every citizen to report violators to the proper agency," says Cool. "Littering is the most common violation and we are making great strides. But we have a long way to go."

We agree with Cool that littering is still a major problem in the Mountain State, and we support tougher laws to counteract this illegal activity. Stiffer penalties should be imposed as warranted by the severity of the offense.

On a positive note, all law enforcement agencies can enforce litter laws in their jurisdiction. We also take heart in the fact that county school students were made aware of the problem during Earth Week by Hamrick. Education may prove to be the most effective way to combat littering.

Today' editorial is a reflection of the opinion of the Exponent editorial board, which is comprised of James G. Logue, Kevin S. Courtney, Patrick M. Martin, Matt Harvey and J. Cecil Jarvis.

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