Morning Read: Trashing the North Country

A worldwide phenomenon. Photo: Michael Coghlan, Adelaide, Australia. Via Flickr, some rights reserved.

Driving around the North Country — which I do a lot — I’m often amazed at the amount of junk and trash that local folks accumulate in their front yards.

There’s a glaring contrast here.

We live in a profoundly beautiful landscape, and we like to tell ourselves that we who live here are its best stewards, the ones who love it most and can care for it best.

But then your eye catches on the derelict cars, the scrap, the garbage, often right in the midst of our neighborhoods, or sitting in shameful piles along rural highways.

Over the years, local officials have tried to push back against this carelessness.

The town of Moriah, according to the Plattsburgh Press-Republican, is currently organizing a massive clean-up, a kind of garbage amnesty that will go on for three days.

“We’re trying to get the town cleaned up,” Moriah supervisor Tom Scozzafava told the Press-Republican.

“We need to do a better job of educating people. We want people to show pride in their community and clean up around their homes.”

Obviously, this problem isn’t limited to our region.  The Burlington Free Press is reporting this morning on an effort by Vermont officials to force a Milton resident to clean up a mountain of more than 200,000 old tires.

[Property owner Gilbert] Rhoades has been doing battle with the state for seven years and has faced allegations in civil court that he operated an unlicensed junkyard, ran an unlicensed solid waste facility and released toxic materials like lead, antifreeze and oil into the ground when he dismantled cars.

This kind of thing is obnoxious.  I wonder if there would be popular support for more stringent enforcement of health and safety codes?

What if proud North Country towns that have an interest in strong, vibrant futures made it clear to garbage scofflaws that they’ll be ticketed and fined, or see their properties condemned, if they don’t dispose of their trash properly?

What have you experienced here?  Do you have neighbors with a big pile of junk in the yard?  And how about yourself?  Do you have a guilty scrapyard on your property that you haven’t found time to clear away?

Comments, as always, welcome.

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42 Comments on “Morning Read: Trashing the North Country”

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  1. Kathy says:

    We need to do a better job of educating people.

    This is the new mantra for the arrogant among us who push for unnecessary regulations or laws for helping us poor folk who are so ignorant.

    Does a person have the “right” to be messy?

    Now before I get inundated with, “Don’t you care about the North Country landscape?” the answer is yes. 200,000 old tires on a mountain sounds awful but is it his property? does he pay property taxes? is it visible? is it fenced off?

    Because there’s a lot of people in the world who don’t like their smell or sight to be offended.

  2. Larry says:

    How about any enforcement at all of health and safety codes, not to mention basic law? Dogs running loose, people burning trash in their yards, operation of unlicensed scooters, 4 wheelers and motorcyles and my personal favorite, the junked car in the yard – all are daily features of life in our towns and villages. Take a good look at how people keep themselves and it’s not hard to understand why they take no pride in the appearance of their homes and don’t care about the squalor they live in. We need a return to traditional values and societal norms.

  3. Hank says:

    “Does a person have the “right” to be messy?”

    Not in full public view; if it’s closed off and out of public view and doesn’t harm the environment, be as much of a slob as you want.

  4. Larry says:

    Personal rights are not unlimited. When your right to be messy ( a very polite way to describe the pile of garbage in my neighbor’s yard that is so large you can’t tell how many junked cars it includes) infringes on your neighbor’s right to peaceful enjoyment of their home or generally accepted standards of living, there’s a huge problem that we have now.

  5. mervel says:

    It is great in concept.

    But the people that I know who have places like this are not going to comply, you can fine them all you want, you can condemn their property etc. Many have years of accumulated junk they can’t afford to throw away. An incentive plan might work better to help people pay for property improvements and beatification. Enforce the law yes I totally agree, but we should not delude ourselves about the extent of the problem.

  6. Fred says:

    A lot of the problem with “junkyards” that pass for front yards is the lack of local codes addressing that very issue. And even when the local codes do address the problem there is a lack of enforcement. And in some unnamed community in the tri lakes you have elected local officials who have their own junkyards. Makes enforcing the law somewhat difficult at best.

  7. MrSandwich says:

    My neighbor has been burning his garbage for 4 days straight now. He must of been storing it all winter and waited for a nice sunny July day(s) to burn it. Haven’t been able to go outside without smelling it since Saturday night when he lit it. I can’t really do much about it…

  8. Kathy says:

    Not in full public view; if it’s closed off and out of public view.

    Hank, who says it shouldn’t be in full public view? I know of farms over the decades who have their machinery helter skelter and farms who have their machinery neatly lined up. I prefer that latter; it is more pleasant. But in the end, just because I don’t happen to like looking at what I have defined as a mess – I conclude that it’s not my business.

    If there are city/town ordinances, yes, they should be followed.

  9. Paul says:

    Is there any correlation between the demise of the local landfill, the huge increase in tipping fees, and the accumulation of trash? If we as a locale want to deal with this problem than maybe we should go back to where out taxes actually paid for things like trash removal. Let me give you an example. I own a waterfront property that is on the Saranac chain of lakes. I have no sewer, no municipal, no street maintenance (no plowing or anything), no garbage removal, basically nothing. So if we charge high tax rates and then still put all the burden on the shoulders of the property owner what do we expect?

    Brian, I never saw any followup on that place on easy street out in Paul Smiths (the APA was threatening some kind of fine)? That place looks worse than ever. I wonder if some of these folks have some kind of “hoarding” issues?

  10. Paul says:

    Kathy, I think for a commercial entity like a farm there should be a different standard. Sometimes business is messy. Residential areas are a different story.

  11. Zeke says:

    Over ten years ago when the push to close local dumps happened no one was asking what will we do with people who will not pay an extra $(pick a #) to have their garbage taken away? I believe it would have been and would be now wiser to make it like a sewer system fee. That is, if the garbage truck goes by your house you pay for it, whether you throw anything in or not.

  12. It's Still All Bush's Fault says:

    In my travels, I have noticed that the problem is more prevalent in St. Lawrence County than in Lewis County. I had someone riding along with the other day on the way to Lowville; and they commented (numerous times) about how nice the houses and farms looked compared to many areas of St. Lawrence County. As it is not limited to certain townships, I don’t believe that lack of enforcement is the main driver. Is there a SLC mind-set that believes junk cars, tires and household appliances are necessary lawn fixtures?

    One of the local townships has provided for the means for their residents to get rid of these things for free of the last few years. It has helped somewhat, but some people have decided that they like the salvage yard look. Therefore, I don’t buy the excuse that people can’t afford to clean up.

  13. Larry says:

    Why should we have to smell burning trash or look at piles of garbage? Individual rights are not more important than the rights of the community as a whole as long as we continue to live in communities. Communities used to have standards and we were much better off when they did.

  14. Kathy says:

    Personal rights are not unlimited.

    I agree (especially in a woman’s right to do what she wishes with her body but that’s another story).

    But as life has become more complicated, it raises issues with how much is too much? Regulations/ordinances/laws that infringe upon personal freedom and rights.

    There is such a fine line as we define what is needful for the safety and greater good of society – and what is oh-that-offends-me stuff.

    A Potsdam resident has two locations with toilets and bathtubs in his yards with artificial flowers “growing” out of them. It has been deemed a mess by many but he sees it as his right to express himself!

  15. Kathy says:

    Larry, we shouldn’t have to smell burning trash or look at piles of garbage – but a pile of junk is different. Ugly, but different.

  16. Paul says:

    Oh boy. Here we go!

  17. Pete Klein says:

    It all comes down to insanity.
    In psychiatry, one of the indications of a mental problem is personal appearance. Does a person care how they look? This can easily be extended to how they take care of their possessions.
    Accumulating stuff either inside or outside a residence is a clear indication of mental problems.
    In the interest of freedom, I guess I would say it’s okay to be a slob. In the interest of freedom, I would then also say it’s okay to do drugs and drive drunk. But slobs, druggies and drunks have some major mental problems.

  18. Larry says:

    The color of my neighbor’s house is ugly (in my opinion) and offends me, but it is freshly painted and nicely kept, so, no problem at all with that. To me, that’s personal expression and he is well within his rights. My other neighbor has a junk pile in his yard that includes an unknown number of automobiles, lawnmowers, snowmobiles, etc., as well as scrap metal, discarded tools and the like. It is nothing more than the place he throws unwanted items. It’s an eyesore, a possible health hazard and an abomination that has nothing to do with personal expression or individual freedom. The community puts no pressure on him for fear of litigation. That’s wrong.

  19. Brian Mann says:

    Here’s my horror story: I was working in my garden a couple of years ago, which backs up against my neighbor’s shed, and I came across a really nasty pool of goo. Oil, engine sludge…I’m not even sure what it all was. He’d dumped it out the back window of his garage. When I went around to demand that it be cleaned up, my neighbors were actually indignant. It was a strange encounter. They did, finally, mop it up and cart away the oil-soaked dirt. Who knows where it all wound up…

    –Brian, NCPR

  20. mervel says:

    Bush’s fault; Why is Lewis county neater? Like you I don’t understand it. I used to chalk it up to just plain old poverty, but I don’t think Lewis County is any wealthier than SLC. I think if we could look at places that are neater etc, and figure out what they are doing we could start there.

  21. Paul says:

    That is now a very serious offense. Again part of the problem is that it is very expensive now to deal properly with waste. I am not surprised when I see tires on every guard rail post out in the woods near St. Regis falls. These folks cannot afford to properly dispose of this stuff.

  22. Zeke says:

    There is a tire disposal fee, if you have a garage put new tires on your car. However it is voluntary.(You can take your tires with you and not pay the fee.) What say you about that?

  23. I guess people are too busy railing against the “outsiders” on the APA to bother taking pride in their own community. When I see some of the crap Brian M’s article describes, I’m left to wonder if maybe outsiders *do* know best. I guess it’s easier to be angry than productive.

  24. Paul says:

    “You can take your tires with you and not pay the fee.) What say you about that?”

    Like I said that may be part of the reason they take the old bald tires and throw them in the woods. Maybe they prefer to use the 10 bucks (2.50 per tire) to buy food for their kids?

  25. Paul says:

    Here is one of the regs we were discussing yesterday:

    “You must file Form MT-170, Waste Tire Management Fee Quarterly Return (with instructions) on a quarterly basis with the Tax Department, even when you make no sales of tires subject to the waste tire management fee during the quarter.”

    Even when you sell no tires you still must fill out a form 4 times a year to report nothing?

  26. Frank says:

    More to the point of the question regarding places where junk has been noticeably accumulated – at the base of the Easy Street hill in Paul Smiths, about a mile or so from the college – Adirondack Daily Enterprise did a story on that place last year ––junkyard-.html

  27. Fred says:

    I’m actually surprised that we haven’t heard from the APA/ Tree Hugger bashers yet, I’m quite sure in their view this problem surely can be blamed on them.

  28. Pete Klein says:

    Maybe they prefer to use the 10 bucks (2.50 per tire) to buy food for their kids? Unlikely.
    More likely they use the money to buy beer.
    There is a solution to the tire problem.
    Charge a deposit fee when you buy tires, then refund the charge when you turn them in. Do it like we do for bottles and cans.

  29. Paul says:

    “More likely they use the money to buy beer.”

    Maybe, but that is a different problem.

    I think it is more of no money and “no place to dump it problem”. When they have these free cleanup days people in some places (St. Regis Falls as an example) come out in droves to get rid of the stuff. Some other folks may have some other issues (like the place in Paul Smiths that Frank and I both mentioned).

    Fred, it seems like a ubiquitous problem, not an Adirondack issue.

  30. Larry says:

    This issue has nothing to do with money. It has to do with people who are slobs and who have no pride in themselves or their surroundings. There are plenty of poor people whose homes are neat and clean and who wouldn’t dump trash on the road. This afternoon I saw a bag of McD’s trash launched from a new Lexus.

  31. zeke says:

    I agree Larry. It is not a poor person issue. It is a money issue. People who do not have it can not spend it and many people who do have it do not want to spend it. I mean lots more people would not have health care unless someone else paid for it for them.

  32. tootightmike says:

    It’s not just individuals, but business properties too. Almost every little town in St Lawrence County has an old abandoned gas station. The tanks are still in the ground, some of them leaking away for thirty years or more. The law says these sites must be cleaned up before a property can be sold, but the cost of clean up is high, the value of small town real estate is low, and what if it never sells. The buildings can collapse, trees grow out of the pumps, and nothing happens. The leak goes on though.

  33. tootightmike says:

    Maybe we should have a photo contest.

  34. mervel says:

    I agree, many of the worst looking properties are old businesses, old warehouses, old salvage yards etc.

    Just drive between Canton and Potsdam on 11,a major highway, half the properties are junk, others are sprawling Rv places and throw in a couple of auto salvage places and a junk yard, looks great! I can see why we would oppose an interstate with all of that beauty that would be destroyed.

  35. Dave says:

    This also becomes a property value issue. I can assure you that when we were looking at houses up here, any house within shouting distance of one of these junk properties was almost immediately ruled out.

    One house we looked at in particular I still remember. It was in Lake Placid and it was a beautiful home. They put so much love and work into it, and it showed. But their neighbors, on both sides, were absolute slobs. The house we looked at had a nice, tall fence, so they didn’t have to look at their neighbors garbage… but as home buyers we had to consider how living close to places like this would affect the value of our investment.

    Ultimately we passed. Every once in awhile we drive by that house and still think it is beautiful… but it is still for sale, even with many, many price reductions. It is completely, absolutely because of those neighboring properties.

    So where do your rights to trash your own property end? In my opinion, they end when they affect the properties that are not just yours.

  36. knuckleheadedliberal says:

    Many years ago I think it was Ron Stafford who said Adirondackers needed to clean up their junk.

  37. mervel says:

    Maybe we need some effective homeowner associations in the NC?

  38. Solidago says:

    “So where do your rights to trash your own property end? In my opinion, they end when they affect the properties that are not just yours.”

    I completely agree. In looking for a place, I’ve passed over many beautiful, well-kept places because it was clear that the neighbors didn’t give a damn, and that the town has lax zoning and/or enforcement.

  39. Pete Klein says:

    From the negative checks on what I believe are positive comments, leads me to believe there are some people who insist upon their right to be a slob.

  40. Larry says:

    Many people who cry about their “rights” have no idea what they actually are and think they can do anything they please.

  41. Mick says:

    Here’s a solution: Show up at a messy place with a truck and a crew and tell the property owner that you’d like to pay him if he’ll let you clean the place up. Then bring his stuff to a scrap yard and make a fortune on it. Scrap metal is going for good prices nowadays.

    I can see it now…”Mann’s Mobile Mess Services”

  42. Bev says:

    Not only do property values decrease living next to someone who is a hoarder, but it can be an extreme fire hazard. The house at the bottom of Easy Street in Paul Smith’s is just that! But it’s been a year or more since they were fined and nothing has been done!

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