Littering in Worcester prompts officials to seek solutions
WORCESTER, Mass. (AP) — When visitors and potential investors come to New England’s second-largest city, the ongoing renaissance downtown provides a lot of wow factor. But first they probably see the litter along the roadways as they get off Interstate 290 or drive in from other gateways.
Like nearly every major municipality, litter has always been a problem, but some say more needs to be done to address the issue that could have a negative impact on the local economy.
“The overall cleanliness of Worcester is something that’s very important to me. We recognize that litter is an issue in our city and we’re working on a comprehensive plan which will provide us with new strategies to proactively address this problem,” City Manager Edward M. Augustus Jr. said.
A Quality of Life Task Force was established in 2015 to tackle dumping problems in neighborhoods. Fighting illegal dumping was made a priority. Since then, $19,175 in fines have been collected along with the collection of more than 83 tons of illegally dumped material.
In a recent interview, Mr. Augustus said people who think they can illegally dump with impunity will be subject to big fines and possible embarrassment from the campaign. Often, the violators are from out of town, the manager said.
The ongoing effort to curb illegal dumping has an arsenal of 20 surveillance cameras and city officials say they will soon publish names of confirmed offenders through a so-called shaming campaign.
Michael F. Marchand, owner of Alfred Roy & Sons Funeral Home at 12 Hammond St. and president of the Webster Square Business Association, said the presence of litter has a negative effect on the business community as well as the residential community. Mr. Marchand and other officials said people don’t seem to have the pride in preventing litter that previous generations seemed to exhibit.
“If there is an area where litter is not properly taken care of, it presents an image that it’s not desirable to shop or live in. Thus, affecting the value of businesses and homes in the local community,” he explained. “If you can get the same product at a similar price at another location that is in a cleaner environment, I believe that we all can say that we would shop there instead.”
Paul J. Moosey, commissioner of the city’s Department of Public Works and Parks, said it’s difficult to quantify the impact of litter. But it cannot be good for business.
“Certainly if you see areas where there is litter and it has been sitting there for a length of time, I think if I was an investor, it would be one of the things I would be looking at. Not the only thing. But it certainly would be a factor if I was making a big investment in real estate,” Mr. Moosey said during a recent interview in his office with his assistant, Robert Fiore.
Steven J. Carter, vice president of operations at The Grid, said he noticed the litter when he came to Worcester. Quincy-based MG2 LLC has invested tens of millions of dollars in Worcester updating buildings on six acres in downtown that have been rebranded The Grid District.
“I think it was not a look that we wanted or the city wanted,” he said of the trash downtown. “We’re proud of the city we’re located in and we want to make sure it has the look that everybody wants. I would love to see people be more conscientious about having their litter go right into the trash barrels.”
Mr. Carter said a team of six employees spend about an hour at 8 a.m. each weekday picking up trash on its property from Main Street down Franklin Street to Salem Street and down Portland Street. One person does the detail on the weekends. The developer has employees do the same thing, though to a smaller scale, at its properties in Lynn and East Boston.
Another highly visible trash location is along and at the bottom of the I-290 exit that leads onto Martin Luther King Jr. Boulevard, a main gateway to downtown. The I-290 off-ramp spills onto East Central Street, then to Martin Luther King Jr. Boulevard.
Chuck Dedoming of Boylston, who owns the property where the 99 Restaurant and other business are located on East Central Street, said the wind blows trash from Plumley Village at the rear of the property to the front, and it gets caught in the fence in the front corner near the ramp. He said once after a manager of the restaurant prohibited a motorist from placing a bag of trash in the store dumpster, the motorist drove off and threw the bag of trash into the parking lot.
“It’s just a constant battle dealing with trash,” Mr. Dedoming said. “I assume at the end of the day I’m responsible. We’ll just have to pick up the program and make it look better.”
Mr. Moosey said the city is actually cleaner now than it was three decades ago when he began working for the city. There’s not less litter. There is more effort to combat it, he said.
“We literally spend hundreds of thousands of dollars we didn’t used to spend. Frankly we’d love to spend more,” he said, adding that when considering the budget, things like whether to fund more police officers or buy a new street sweeper have to be weighed.
The city begins in April sweeping every public street in the city, something that was not done years ago. That task was just completed last week. At the start of the annual street cleaning of sand and litter, the city sends each business owner a letter announcing the street sweeping and encouraging them to join in the cleanup effort.
By most accounts, many businesses do a good job of cleaning litter from the street and around their property and undertake beautification efforts. John Piccolo, president of the Shrewsbury Street Area Merchants Association, in an August 2017 Telegram & Gazette story, said the organization spends $20,000 to $30,000 a year on litter, landscaping and maintenance of holiday lights.
Mr. Marchand said District 5 City Councilor Matthew E. Wally and Mr. Augustus had some of the large cement planters on Main Street moved to the Webster Square area to help with beautification. The planters moved from downtown will be replaced with new ones after the completion of the streetscape project on Main Street.
Mr. Moosey said the city sweeps streets along the main roadways in downtown and the Canal District areas late at night five days a week. But streets in the other business districts are only swept once a week.
Working with businesses
Some business owners, including Mr. Marchand, said there would be less litter if the city extended the daily street sweeping to all the business districts.
“The WSBA feels as though that if we were able to increase (street sweeping in the area) to five nights a week with a constant effort of the main roads, it could make a significant difference and it would also maybe show some support to the local business community,” he said. “No matter how clean downtown is, if (visitors) have to drive through areas that aren’t maintained, they’re always going to have the perception that Worcester is not a clean city.”
The city also does not provide the approximately $600 trash receptacles to all business districts. And city crews only empty receptacles that are in parks and other public property, including the Common.
Mr. Moosey said the city is willing to work with business associations to address litter.
Timothy P. Murray, president and CEO of the Worcester Regional Chamber of Commerce, said the service should include all the business districts. He said most neighborhood business associations have attempted to address the issue. But there needs to be more partnership with the city.
“I would like to see the city replicate that program currently in place for downtown which would include the addition of more trash receptacles and the city taking responsibility for emptying those receptacles for our neighborhood business districts,” said the city native, former mayor and former lieutenant governor. “This is not an unreasonable request in that Worcester businesses pay much higher in property taxes than their counterparts in the region and they don’t require the same level of services as residents.”
Mr. Moosey said that is being considered. However, he pointed out that the expanded effort would require an additional sanitation crew with two workers, a street sweeper, fuel and maintenance that would cost approximately $150,000.
The city has hired 150 temporary workers for the summer to mow grass and to clean pools and beaches. Four or five of those workers, who began July 1, will help control litter, overgrowth and other aesthetic issues in the parks and other public properties. Money has been budgeted to hire an independent contractor to clean up other areas, including islands, alongside roads and median strips. Separate work is planned to clean the median on Belmont Street coming from Shrewsbury.
Mr. Moosey also pointed out that Keep Worcester Clean program, an offshoot of the city’s pay-as-you-throw trash program that began 25 years ago, has volunteers who clean tons of trash each year. Last year the volunteers picked up 235 tons of trash from 1,053 sites. He said at the request of the City Council, he and the city manager plan to present their recommendations on improving trash and recycling efforts to the council on July 17. He said those efforts might be expanded to include litter.
“Litter is an ongoing thing. Bob (Fiore) and I are talking now on an education campaign on recycling and trash. ... Maybe we can bring litter into that. Maybe a citywide campaign,” Mr. Moosey said.
After seeing trash-filled parking lots at the CVS and Walgreens on Stafford Street, Mr. Wally did something out of the ordinary to get them cleaned up. In April, he tweeted photos of the trash and said the two pharmacies were competing for customers but were they also competing to see which could have the trashiest property. After the pharmacies contacted the companies’ headquarters, the trash was picked up.
“If someone is going in and buying some product ... eat a bag of chips and then throw the bag out, the main responsibility is the person who is littering. But, the store manager also has the responsibility to pick it up,” he said. “We want the city to present itself well and litter doesn’t do that.”
Information from: Telegram & Gazette (Worcester, Mass.), http://www.telegram.com