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City targets grass clipping pollution

by Andrew Maciejewski - amaciejewski@h-ponline.com

City of Huntington residents who blow grass clippings into the street could begin receiving fines in the future, after Common Council members unanimously approved the first reading of an ordinance amending City Code, last month.

The ordinance makes it illegal to scatter debris or allow debris to scatter into any street or alley, including grass clippings, shavings, chips, papers, leaves, refuse, trash, ashes or other material.

The city owns 3,000 inlets and 60 miles of storm sewers that the state requires them to clean and maintain. So far this year, the City has cleaned 388 tons of debris from the sewers and 457 tons of debris from street sweeping, according to department reports.

“We’ve already surpassed last year’s total of 380 tons and we still have three months to go yet this year, so I think that gives you a pretty good indication of how much of this grass and other debris is getting into the city storm sewer system,” Public Works and Engineering Services technician Adam Cuttriss said. “We can possibly help prevent or reduce a significant amount of this with this grass clipping ordinance.”

Cuttriss said the grass clippings and debris clogs the city’s sewer system and can contribute to flooding during heavy rain events.

Public Works and Engineering Services director Anthony Goodnight said there will be an educational period, if the ordinance is approved on second reading, where the city will educate the public about the new law.

Goodnight said debris in the sewers is inevitable, but he said he hopes the ordinance will stop people from intentionally polluting the streets and sewers with debris.

The ordinance also contains clauses that restrict vegetation planted in the public right of way.

The ordinance creates maximum height limits for vegetation planted within the rights of way, prohibits covering the tree lawn and expands the scope of the Citations Officer’s authority to enforce vegetation within rights of way.

“We’ve had some instances here recently where Board of Works has had to address sight distance issues in the right of way – people planting stuff that they shouldn’t,” Public Works and Engineering Services director Anthony Goodnight said. “This (ordinance) allows us to remedy that quickly, instead of having to wait for a board of works meeting.”

Goodnight said the ordinance allows for trimming of any vegetation that is going to cause sight distance issues within 50 feet of an intersection. Vegetation includes any plant that can attain a height more than 36 inches from the ground.

The ordinance also makes it unlawful for property owners to allow limbs and branches of vegetation to hang less than eight feet above sidewalks and ten feet above the street.

If the homeowners are not in compliance, the ordinance allows the City to issue a citation, and if the homeowner isn’t within compliance within five days of the written notice, the City can trim the vegetation and bill the homeowner.

The ordinance will be presented on second reading at the upcoming Common Council meeting scheduled today at 7 p.m. at City Hall, 300 Cherry St.