One year ago citizens, city officials, police, P&G Foods and Save-A-Lot - the two downtown Dunkirk grocery stores - began talking about solutions to the rampant abuse of grocery carts that were brazenly taken from the lot and used to wheel groceries to private addresses along the neighboring streets.
The carts would not be returned but would pile up until management discovered them and picked them up, sometimes weeks later. The carts were an eyesore and a risk for drivers, children who played in them and ended up littering nearby neighborhoods. The grocery stores first posted signs saying it was illegal to remove the carts. These were ignored for the most part. Neighborhood groups and current councilwoman, Stephanie Kiyak, wrote letters to Save-A Lot administrators. It was not until the manager and owners agreed to press charges and the police agreed to arrest and fine the offenders that this behavior stopped.
Congratulations to Mayor Anthony J. Dolce and Police Chief David Ortolano who opened the dialogue with the store owners again. Congratulations to Save-A-Lot and P&G Foods, which finally got tired of damaged and stolen carts and decided to press charges. The problem appears to have been solved. Many shoppers now bring their own wheeled carts which are for sale at modest cost in both downtown grocery stores.
Louis Raimondo “adopted” the 600 block of Main Street in Dunkirk.
With this obvious success, why not move on to other scofflaw concerns for residents of the city?
Litter is described as "a behavioral choice based on apathy, lack of social pressure to do the right thing, ignorance of the law and an absence of realistic penalties and inconsistent enforcement."
Litter is visible throughout the city. It is on our beaches, in spite of nearby trash cans. It is along the main thoroughfares and neighborhood streets, parks and yards. It is at our harbor to greet visitors to the city dock and in the water of the harbor, floating around the yachts and other boats.
Litter is costing the city plenty. Tony Gugino, director of the Department of Public Works recently reported that early this spring, five dump truck loads of litter and garbage were removed from behind the high rise and the Main Street beach area using four men from the Parks Department, six from Streets Department and eight prisoners the first day and the six men from the Streets Department for the next four days!
The Fredonia State University inaugural Volunteer Day of Service on Sept. 22 focused on Dunkirk beaches and collected a total of 852.2 pounds of trash from half a mile of beach. This was accomplished with 97 volunteers from SUNY Fredonia, and Cub Scout Pack 267 in two hours. Think what that saved the city in clean up costs!
Dog excrement fits in this litter category as well, especially disgusting on the beaches, surprising bare feet, and in private yards of neighbors who don't even own a dog. When was the last time a dog owner was fined for not cleaning up after his dog?
And graffiti is but another category showing up with increasing frequency. It is the owner of the property, unfortunately, not the vandal ,who is punished in this scenario. The housing inspector issues a warning and threatens a fine if not removed within a certain time frame. Has a tagger ever been caught and punished in the city? An example of the graffiti problem appeared on the front page of the OBSERVER on a graffiti-covered dumpster.
Illegal dumping is another facet of the litter problem known too well by businesses and landlords who pay the fees to have these larger containers for their own business only to be abused by others who are trying to avoid fees for their personal waste at the transfer station.
And while the city of Dunkirk offers a great facility for yard waste on Lucas Avenue by the city barns, almost daily one might find construction debris dumped by someone unwilling to follow the clearly posted rules.
Think of the revenues the city could collect if fines were really imposed for all these offenses? Think of how much cleaner and more appealing Dunkirk could be if this careless behavior could be discouraged? Think of how our children would learn to be responsible for their environment and proud of the cleanliness of the city. Think of the money the city could save with less clean up charges? One success deserves another.
Litter regulations exist in the city code, but do not state a specific fine. New York state imposes a fine of up to $250 on litterbugs. In Ohio littering is a third-degree misdemeanor with up to $500 fine or 60 days in jail. The fine rises to $1,000 if a waterway is littered. Pennsylvania fines up to $900 and/or a requirement for picking up and removing litter from public property.
Let's clarify the code in Dunkirk, demonstrate the necessary social pressure and outrage, impose a clearly stated fine, educate and have consistent enforcement. There is an obvious need for trash cans along major walking routes to schools and businesses. I have heard the argument that the city cannot afford to put out or collect municipal trash containers. It seems to me that the city with aspirations of attracting tourists and visitors and maintaining a sense of pride in community will find a way to put out the necessary containers and encourage residents to use them and clean up the city. Some cities are using solar operated trash and recycling compactors which lessen the frequency of pick up and even notify the office electronically when full. This sort of system would save much time and gas for more selective collection intervals. Grants are available for this kind of project.
Other cities have adopted clear litter laws and posted these laws in public places. Some have put out security cameras to capture the offenders in action. They also have started "Adopt a Block" programs, where individuals or organizations take responsibility for one designated area of the city. The Mendex Corp. has offered to adopt the 600 block of Main Street, a block where local property owners focused this summer on beautification, tree replacement and exterior improvements, advocacy for crime reduction and a greater sense of community. The sign has been designed and paid for through a Lake Shore Savings Bank community grant and is approved by Mayor Dolce as a pilot program.
Let's have this become the start of a whole voluntary engagement program to help keep the city streets, beaches and parks clean. These volunteers could be featured on a city website. There could be good hearted competition among the private clubs to keep areas of the city litter free.
The scouts, 4-H, Boys and Girls' Club, middle and high school clubs and teams, Rotary, Lions could all contribute. Local businesses could play a greater role. Perhaps local businesses could round up the litter within a two-block radius, (about the distance it takes to finish a pizza or drink, discard a cigarette or a lottery ticket) just to be good neighbors. Or perhaps they could sponsor a trash container.
Louis Raimondo owner of Mendex Corp., puts forth the following challenge: "I am glad for the opportunity to offer something back to the community with an effort to help keep Dunkirk beautiful and moving forward, not only with my home remodeling business but also to help keep the streets free of trash. I would like to challenge any business in Dunkirk to do better than me. I'm just a small business with one block. Surely there are plenty of bigger businesses in the city doing a hundred times better than me that can handle a couple of blocks or more. Let's see where your heart is!"
Together, Dunkirk could make it all happen.