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County cleanup initiatives helping keep litter off roads

by Caitlan Butler | May 25, 2023 at 12:00 a.m.
Union County Judge Mike Loftin and his wife, Phena, discuss litter prevention with Otto the Otter, who is the mascot for Keep Arkansas Beautiful. (Courtesy of Mike Loftin/Special to the News-Times)

Local residents across Union County are pitching in to keep the streets and environment clean, part of several recent initiatives started by County Judge Mike Loftin to keep the county litter-free.

In early March, Loftin announced that the county solid waste department would open one Saturday a month to allow county residents to drop off large trash items, including appliances, furniture, bicycles and more.

"It's been very helpful. We've gotten a lot of appliances and other big items -- bicycles, water heaters. We've got a little bit of everything in that dumpster, that in some cases would have ended up in the woods or on the side of the road," Loftin said.

The solid waste department is open the third Saturday of each month, from 8 a.m. to 4 p.m., for large item drop-offs.

"We have somebody there to help unload, or if it's too heavy to get in the dumpster, we'll set it on the ground and get some equipment out there to get it in the dumpster on Monday," Loftin said.

The solid waste department is located right next door to the county road department at 2476 Champagnolle Rd. It's the first blue building on the left after one passes the entrances to the El Dorado-Union County Recreation Complex.

In mid-March, Loftin announced a second initiative: the Union County Adopt-a-Road program.

"This Adopt-a-Road program was really my wife's idea. We'd seen it in different places around when we're traveling. She said, 'why don't you do that,'" the county judge said. "We did and it's turning out to be a pretty good deal."

Some road adopters include the Junction City School District, which adopted about 3.5 miles of the road that leads to Junction City High; LANXESS, which adopted about a mile of Southfield Cutoff Road; State Line Automotive, which adopted part of South Caledonia Road; Murray Transport, which adopted about 1.5 miles of Wingfield Lake Road; Atkins Farms, which adopted a stretch of Parkers Chapel Road; and the residents of Aurelle and Sandy Bend roads, who adopted portions of their streets.

Loftin noted that many residents started cleaning litter on their streets years ago, and now their work is recognized with signage denoting their adoption of the roads.

But, as the largest county in the state, Union County still has plenty of roads available to be adopted. Loftin said those who wish to adopt a county road may do so by stopping by his office and filling out an application form, or by visiting the county's website, unioncounty.ar.com, navigating to the County Judge page and downloading the application form.

"We have a form that they sign when they agree to do this. We like for them to take at least a mile -- a lot take more than a mile," Loftin said. "The agreement they sign says they'll pick it up at least four times a year."

The county will provide trash bags for cleanups, and Loftin said Keep Arkansas Beautiful, a state beautification organization, will also provide safety vests and other materials for cleanups upon request.

Loftin said the county previously relied on inmate labor to keep county roads clean, but during the COVID-19 pandemic, most misdemeanor suspects began to be cited out to prevent overcrowding in the county jail, and now that the virus's spread had been contained and court backlogs are being cleared, most inmates in the county jail are felony suspects, who can't be authorized to work while incarcerated.

"Years ago we had inmates, could use inmates to pick it up, and we did. Pretty regularly, on a Saturday, we'd have inmates out picking up trash," Loftin said. "When the situation at the jail got so we couldn't get inmates, we didn't pick up trash for a while, and then I started hiring people."

For a while, Loftin hired people residing at Wings of Love, a local reentry facility for people leaving incarceration, to pick up liter on county roads at a cost of $500 per day, usually one Saturday a month.

"That was pretty expensive for taxpayers, using tax dollars to pay for that stuff," he said.

That was when his wife, Phena, suggested the Adopt-a-Road program.

Loftin also proposed an ordinance to the Union County Quorum Court last December that would require county residents to bag their trash before it would be picked up. He said unbagged trash was escaping the garbage truck and causing litter to build up around the county. The ordinance passed unanimously and went into effect in February.

"I get a lot of complaints about trash on county roads," he said. "So we've had to look for some alternatives, and we've had several people step up and help."

For more information about the Adopt-a-Road program, call the County Judge's office at 870-864-1900 or visit unioncountyar.com or the Union County Judge Mike Loftin page on Facebook.

photo Junction City School District staff pose with a sign denoting their adoption of the road leading to the school after a cleanup on Tuesday. (Courtesy of Mike Loftin/Special to the News-Times)

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