Lynn Cobb had a simple message: McDuffie, we have a problem.
The Keep America Beautiful and Department of Community Affairs representative spoke to local leaders at the Thomson Depot last week on what can be done about the growing litter problem in McDuffie County.
One of the first steps, she said, is to join up with Keep America Beautiful, a government-operated, non-profit organization aimed at helping beautify communities.
"(We want to) engage individuals in taking greater responsibility for their environment, and the key to that is individual responsibility. It's not the mayor's job; it's not the solid waste director's job; it's everybody's job to make sure that this county is clean and beautiful," she said.
After the meeting, Thomson-McDuffie Chamber of Commerce Director Carolyn Gilbert said she was already preparing a letter to send to the McDuffie County Board of Commissioners and the Thomson City Council requesting to enter the Keep America Beautiful and Keep Georgia Beautiful programs.
The move would probably kick off a massive county-wide cleanup effort, something many local leaders think is long overdue.
"I've noticed in the last two months that there is more and more trash and litter that is piling out in different parts of the county," said County Commissioner Darrell Wester at a commission meeting last week. "There seems to be a problem especially around businesses. There are several places around town that if you notice, there's a big accumulation of trash, and they need to be responsible."
Commission Chairman Charlie Newton agreed that the growing amount of litter has become a significant problem.
"It's not just around businesses; it's everywhere," he said. "It seems to be getting worse, and I don't know why."
The City of Thomson has been trying to pass an ordinance that would be aimed at shrinking the number of abandoned shopping carts deposited throughout the county, but councilmen are still ironing out details.
The Keep America Beautiful Program, if adopted by local governments, would provide education, education materials and ways to go about informing the community about proper litter management. But Ms. Cobb was clear: a community can pass all the ordinances they want, but in the end, it comes down to local people acting responsibly.
Thomson-McDuffie Tourism Board Chairman Hazel Mobley said she thinks that McDuffie County would benefit greatly from inclusion in such programs.
"I think McDuffie County is a county of growth, and I think we're on the brink of something great here," she said.
There are litter ordinances in place, but they're rarely enforced. There is a reward program associated with litter infractions, which rewards someone with half the eventual fine if they turn someone in. However, County Code Enforcement officer Gail Newsome said that people are generally reluctant to appear in court and testify against a fellow citizen.