Dirty diapers bake in the hot sun on Pierce Street in Lewiston on Thursday afternoon July 18, 2019. Russ Dillingham/Sun Journal

LEWISTON — The city is beginning a 13-week awareness campaign aimed at getting more residents to comply with ordinances regarding trash and yard maintenance.

An announcement from the city late last week said an informational brochure with details on the campaign will be included in every Lewiston property owner’s water and sewer bill over the next three months.

David Hediger, director of Planning and Code Enforcement, said that while many residents maintain their properties and dispose of trash appropriately, “city staff constantly struggles with properties not following the rules” and is hoping the brochure “better educates property owners and renters of the city’s ordinance requirements.”

According to the city, the challenges associated with trash and enforcement of related city ordinances has been discussed at length by Lewiston’s elected officials, city administration, and staff.

The council discussed the initial proposal by city staff in February, stating the problem perpetuates a negative image of Lewiston.

During the workshop, planning officials said trash downtown has caused “a visual eyesore, lower property values” and “a costly and inefficient drain on Code Enforcement and Public Works staff.”

According to a council memo at the time, a review of violations for 2018 showed 164 solid waste curbside violations and 112 trash/debris violations. A slide show of images shown to councilors showed bulky waste items such as televisions and mattresses lying on sidewalks, and loose trash bags in streets.

City Planner Doug Greene, who is leading the initiative, said he’s hoping the campaign will at the very least “start a dialogue on how people look at Lewiston and generate more pride.”

In response, according to the city, the image campaign will have three goals: “Educate property owners and renters about the existing rules for trash collection, recycling, and yard maintenance; encourage Lewiston residents to actively take pride in their property and neighborhoods; and begin an enhanced enforcement effort once residents are familiar with the educational campaign and have begun to adhere to it.”

Hediger said some of the biggest issues are property owners and renters placing trash and recycling curbside on the wrong day or not in suitable containers.

“Trash put out in plastic bags are susceptible to animals getting into the trash,” he said. “Large, bulky items placed curbside will not be picked up. These are not new rules.”

He said the general rules for recycling are listed on the brochure as well as at www.lewistonmaine.gov/solidwaste.

Some Lewiston tenants take pride in the condition and appearance of their homes. Russ Dillingham/Sun Journal

Part of the effort will also remind Lewiston residents that late last year, the City Council passed an ordinance that expanded the area where yard maintenance rules will be enforced. All yards, except in the rural agricultural district, with weeds or plant growth taller than 12 inches are a violation of the city’s property maintenance code and subject to fines.

Following the spring workshop discussion, a neighborhood “trash amnesty” cleanup organized by Healthy Neighborhoods in May collected more than 31 tons of trash. The initiative also distributed 150 covered 32-gallon trash and recycling bins.

Organizer Amy Smith said an important part of the issue is removing barriers for residents to dispose of waste properly.

During the spring workshop, she said a brainstorming session by the group discussed barriers for many in the neighborhood, including the ability to buy a trash container. Many landlords can’t afford to pay for trash pickup more than once a week, yet trash appears daily.

“When we collaborated with the city and 16 generous sponsors to bring a mini transfer station, free containers, and educational materials right to the heart of the Tree Streets for two days, the community responded with tremendous energy and pride,” she said.

“The city’s educational outreach will build on that momentum, with the goal of achieving long-term, sustainable beautification.”

According to the city, the brochure is being translated into Portuguese, Arabic, French and Somali.

“We want to make sure that everyone, not just landlords or property owners who get water and sewer bills, has access to this information,” Greene said.

“The Code Enforcement and Public Works staff don’t want to fine anyone, so please follow the rules and let’s work together to take pride in our city and make it beautiful.”

The brochure can be viewed at www.lewistonmaine.gov/keepitclean.

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