Tribune-Star Editorial

As this week began, Terre Haute looked cleaner, thanks to the efforts of volunteers.

The volunteers, including many from a variety of city and Vigo County offices, were part of a biannual citywide cleanup Saturday morning. They filled more than a dozen Dumpsters with rubbish. Much of the trash had been illegally dumped.

Once the volunteers finished, the total collected refuse appeared to be the largest haul for a cleanup in recent memory, according to organizers and Mayor Duke Bennett.

“This is by far — and it’s not even close — the biggest one we’ve ever had,” Bennett said Saturday.

That reality is both a testament to the many hands that pitched in Saturday and also the scope of the chronic problem. In fact, the city has considered increasing the number of its cleanups to four a year, rather than two.

City-organized brush-ups are among several performed seasonally by various volunteer groups. City and county crews also deal with illegal dumping, litter and eyesore trash on a daily basis. Service groups, church members, inmates and goodhearted individuals pick up garbage tossed on roadsides on a regular basis. Their hard work beautifies the community, but only temporarily. Trash quickly accumulates again. Cleanup workers are outmatched by the litterers and dumpers.

If Terre Haute and Vigo County aspire to be known as a clean community every day, a crackdown on dumping and littering is needed to complement the spirited work of cleanup crews. Cities across Indiana and the country battle the problem, but Terre Haute perpetually struggles to contain its littering and dumping dilemma.

People who intentionally litter and illegally dump in this city and county apparently believe their actions are worth the risk, according to a general profile of litterers nationwide compiled by Keep America Beautiful.

“This means they perceive that they will not get caught, or, if they are caught, will not face severe financial or criminal repercussions,” according to the environmental organization’s “Enforcement and Prosecution Guide.” “Those who litter due to negligence ... will become more cognizant of their actions if they face enforcement. Enforcement is a way to send the message to violators, and society in general, that this type of activity is not acceptable.”

One of the participants in Saturday’s cleanup told Tribune-Star reporter Alex Modesitt that most of the refuse his two-man crew picked up and loaded onto a trailer came from illegal dumping in city alleys.

Theoretically, anyone illegally dumping or littering in the city can be fined a maximum of $300, according to the Terre Haute City Code.

Next spring’s community cleanups should be accompanied by a simultaneous crackdown to enforce those fines on violators.

The cleanliness of Terre Haute and Vigo County matters to residents and their quality of life and property values; to businesses competing for customers in the Wabash Valley region; to prospective employers and residents looking to relocate; to visitors who might be looking to experience a day or weekend trip to a Wabash River city; and to the pride of the community overall.

Imagine if Terre Haute wanted to declare itself “the cleanest city in Indiana.” The sustained actions necessary to validate such a claim should become a well-guarded priority here. The impact would be dramatic.

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