Greater Baton Rouge Business Report
Mayor Sharon Weston Broome and key members of her administration laid out more details this afternoon of a comprehensive program to reduce litter and blight in Baton Rouge, a problem that has festered for years and, once again, is getting the attention of community stakeholders.
In a noon webinar sponsored by the Baton Rouge Area Chamber, Broome and her staff presented some of the specifics about how the program, which the mayor first mentioned in her State of the City address earlier this month, will tackle the many causes of the litter problem.
“This is not a simple feat and it will take the support of our entire community,” Broome said via Zoom. “It will require community support and action.”
Among the key components of Broome’s plan will be to redeploy the city’s street sweepers to “hot spots” like College Drive near Interstate 10 and Siegen Lane, which will be swept more frequently, and also to interstate on- and off-ramps, which will be cleaned once every two weeks.
The administration will target illegal signage, restarting a robocall system that automatically and incessantly calls the phone numbers on signs that are placed illegally in the public right of way.
It will relaunch and rebrand a community engagement program that has been on hold since the pandemic, now to be called Operation Clean Up, which targets certain neighborhoods for quarterly, volunteer-led cleanup days.
The effort will also involve public outreach and messaging through billboards, radio and television and social media that will “drive home the need for cultural change,” Broome spokesman Mark Armstrong said.
But the administration doesn’t have any plans yet to purchase, install and monitor litter-catching equipment that could be installed at the outfalls of the parish’s hundreds of drainage canals, which flush trash into local watersheds.
“We will monitor what we collect to evaluate the effectiveness of what we have in place,” Broome’s Assistant Chief Administrative Officer Kelvin Hill said on the webinar.
But very little is currently in place. The city has just three litter-catching booms at the outfalls of its canals, of which there are some 250, and Broome said it is too soon to talk about any sort of fee to fund the purchase of additional equipment.
“It would be premature to talk about any utility fees,” Broome said. “My goal is to, number one, work within city-parish government and develop public private partnerships that benefit us as we move forward with this plan.”
That approach is troubling to Spanish Town resident and photographer Marie Constantin, who has become an advocate over the past year of reducing litter in the watershed and has organized volunteer efforts to clean up Capitol Lake.
“We are never going to solve this by just telling people not to litter,” Constantin says. “At some point, we have to bite the bullet and address this correctly.”
Constantin has studied communities elsewhere around the country that charge residents a small fee to fund litter reduction programs and equipment and believes it’s the only way to get at the problem.
“Communities that are successful at this have concluded we have to hammer away at the root cause but also put in the equipment, spend the millions and recognize we will never be able to take that equipment out as long as there are single-use plastics.”
The Broome administration has said it does not have a price tag for its program but that most of the initiatives can be done by redeploying existing resources and utilizing volunteer help.
Asked how the effectiveness of the initiatives will be measured, Hill said the results will speak for themselves.
“The standard we will use is the amount of litter we collect,” he said.