City cleanup requires more than sweeping [Letter]

April 14, 2014

Michael Hankin's comments on the new street sweeping program that has now been initiated in Baltimore are very much appreciated, but the effort will not turn out to be the panacea for the trash problem in city that he suggests ("A clean sweep," April 7).

The view that cooperation rather than enforcement is the best way to clean our Inner Harbor of trash leaves a lot to be desired. His assumption is that most of the trash is on the streets of Baltimore and that street sweeping will be the factor that reduces trash going into the Harbor. On the contrary, when we did the Harris Creek Watershed Trash Project in 2010, we found that 90 percent of the trash was coming from the backyards of vacant houses in the middle of the watershed. We located over 100 trash dumps or mini-landfills and reported these by calling 311 and giving their GPS location. It was not any cooperation by Department of Public Works that helped us but the enforcement actions of the Housing Department that brought bulldozers to clean out these trash sites.

We had a trash interceptor located at the outlet of the Harris Creek Watershed at Boston Street and were able to show that we reduced the trash discharge from four tons a month at the start of our project to less than a half-ton per month after our sweep. The results were reported to the Baltimore City Council through a committee headed by Councilman Jim Kraft. Neighborhood associations of the Harris Creek Watershed requested 5,000 trash cans to assist neighborhood cooperation, but they were never provided. In addition, it was felt that there was need of a "landkeeper" who would work closely with the associations to identify future dumps and that this would come under the enforcement section of the Housing Department.

Cleaning the harbor of trash and making the water healthy, fishable and swimmable by the year 2020 must be the goal of all of us who live in Baltimore. Steps to do this will have to be bold! It can be done but it will need more than just sweeping the streets, especially when the majority of the trash lies in the backyards of vacant houses. True partnerships with neighborhood associations and better planning can help us to accomplish what we all want.

Raymond D. Bahr, Baltimore

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