MuskogeePhoenix.com, Muskogee, OK

September 8, 2013

Yard waste left to wash into street drains despite ordinance

By D.E. Smoot
Phoenix Staff Writer

— A growing number of Muskogee residents appear to be ignoring an ordinance that prohibits them from discarding lawn debris in a manner that allows it to enter stormwater drains.

Francie Martin, the city’s assistant stormwater compliance officer, said the problem seems to have gotten worse since the ordinance was passed in 2009. Compliance is required by the city’s stormwater discharge permit and laws designed to reduce flooding and curb pollutants that enter streams, rivers and lakes.

Even though the ordinance has been on the books more than four years, enforcement efforts didn’t begin in earnest until the summer of 2012. Ron Bladen, an environmental technician and assistant stormwater compliance officer, said in 2012 that city workers spent the first couple of years educating residents.

Stormwater compliance officers stepped up enforcement in 2012, routinely issuing citations. Martin said notices are still issued to first-time offenders, but residents who continue to leave grass clippings and other yard wastes along streets receive citations that make them subject to fines of up to $1,000 a day for each violation.

“You could make bales of hay out of the grass that is being left in the streets after people mow their yards,” said Martin, who also volunteers with A More Beautiful Muskogee Inc. and is a member of an Action in Muskogee committee tasked with finding ways to clean up the town. “We are trying to clean up the town, but it just seems we have a lot of people who don’t know about the ordinance or just don’t care.”

The ordinance has to do with more than aesthetics. Martin said that when yard wastes — some of it laden with fertilizers and other chemicals and other debris — wash into the city’s stormwater drainage system, it can lead to flooding and damage aquatic systems.

“If it gets into our water bodies, the decaying wastes takes out the oxygen from the water and kills all kinds of aquatic life,” Martin said. “That is where all this green algae comes from, and it can create conditions that increase mosquito populations.”

Martin said Oklahoma Department of Environmental Quality officials visit Muskogee weekly “to make sure we are doing our jobs and preventing the pollution of our stormwater systems.” To stay on top of the problem and avoid violations of the city’s permit for its stormwater sewer system, the city has five compliance officers who are authorized to issue citations.

Martin said that even residents who hire lawn service workers are responsible for any lawn wastes or debris susceptible of being washed into the stormwater sewer system.

Reach D.E. Smoot at (918) 684-2901 or dsmoot@muskogeephoenix.com.