Morgantown City Council advances litter ordinance

MORGANTOWN, W.Va. – Morgantown City Council is moving forward with an updated litter ordinance.

The first reading of changes to the city’s litter and waste disposal code was approved by council. The changes include an official classification of littering, a clarification on the location of waste disposal bins for residents, and increased penalties and enforcement. Four city departments will be sanctioned as “special litter prevention officers” and will issue citations that can result in penalties of up to $500 and jail time. The aim is to tackle concerns that range from disposal bin locations on Willey Street to reports of hazardous waste that has been found in parts of the city.

“The solid waste, weeds, and noxious materials provisions of the city code relating to keeping public places clear of litter and the processes by which various city officials can enforce those laws,” said City Attorney Ryan Simonton on the measure.

The new ordinance would mandate that any Morgantown resident who has a disposal bin keep any sidewalk or public right-of-way clear of litter or blockages for pedestrians, with the exception of designated times for waste pickups. Any violations would be enforced by the City Director of Development Services (Rickie Yeager), the City Building Official and Deputy Building Official, Morgantown Parking Authority employees, and the City Fire Marshall and Deputy Fire Marshall as part of the “special litter prevention officer” designation. The ordinance also adds extra penalties for improper “medical waste” disposal, which accounts for sharps and other dangerous waste that may be disposed of in unauthorized locations. Any citations issued would be related to any person found littering, with property owners who may have unwanted waste exempt from any penalties.

“The prohibition on littering only applies to public places,” said Simonton. “So streets and public properties don’t apply to it,” he said.

Penalties classified for improper “medical waste” disposal include a fine of up to $500 or 30 days in jail; regular littering penalties will include fines of up to $500. Citations can also be issued by Morgantown police officers and other law enforcement entities that work in collaboration with the city (i.e., WVU Police).

Options for potential designated disposal bin locations for residents in areas like Willey Street who may be unintentionally blocking right-of-ways or sidewalks are under consideration. City departments that will help enforce the new litter and waste disposal code will be trained on the new procedures this fall, with the aim of having them begin enforcement as soon as possible. Simonton also stated that no new employees will be hired as part of the ordinance.

“This adds the designation of fire marshals and the (City) Development Services Director as well and cleans up the title designations, but it does not hire new staff,” he said.

Morgantown City Council also approved the application for a West Virginia Department of Environmental Protection grant to renew their participation in the West Virginia Covered Electronic Devices Takeback Program. According to the resolution authorizing the application, the grant would help renew the city’s electronic recycling program and help cover additional costs related to the transportation of recyclables as part of any scheduled device takebacks. The hope for city officials and members of council is that their combined efforts will help improve the visual landscape of the city and the safety of its residents.

“Part of the reason that we are updating our litter ordinance is so that we can have all the different parts of city government working together on litter issues,” said Morgantown Mayor Jenny Selin. “Rather than just focusing on one or two (departments),” she said,