IN a recent op-ed, the Saipan mayor recalled that in the Trust Territory days, each village had a commissioner who made sure that homes were clean. Today, there is a “beefed up” anti-littering law, P.L. 19-53, that is supposed to be enforced by BECQ, DLNR, DPW, the mayor’s office, the zoning office, Public Health, DPL and DPS. That’s a lot of agencies. About three years ago, moreover, DEQ, DPS and the AG’s office trained and certified 85 litter control apprehending officers: 53 from Saipan, 16 each from Tinian and Rota.
Today we ask: Are they enforcing the law? Have they caught any violators?
It would be great to hear from the litter control unit (if it still exists) from time to time.
Back in the day, based on Variety’s very old news stories, littering was a huge problem. On this newspaper’s front page in 1972 — almost half a century ago — was a photo of a big pile of trash dumped on the side of a public road. There were also news stories about cleanups on Managaha where volunteers “hauled away over 150 bags of trash,” and a similar activity at the Grotto which was strewn with “beer and soft drink cans, roofing tin, board and other rubbish….”
This was before tourism became the island’s major industry.
In 1976, an MV op-ed writer complained about the “very disgusting…trash and garbage that people drop on the side of the roads, on the road itself, and other public places including the beach. In addition, we even see dead dogs, cats and other dead animals…on the highways….”
In 1977, the visitors bureau director told Variety that before the island could welcome tourists, “schools and youth groups need encouragement and education in ecological awareness and the importance of a clean environment” — litter “is a major problem….”
Two years later, the Saipan mayor of the then-brand new Commonwealth government complained about illegal dumping. “A public dump that has reached capacity, illegal dumping, littering of roadsides. These problems have reached a near-crisis in the view of the governor’s Cleanup Task Force,” Variety reported. “The litter problem in Saipan is absolutely overwhelming,” the mayor said during an inspection tour. “On a drive to Agingan Point…the mayor stood at the end of the peninsula, and contrasted the beautiful scenery with the pile of trash, garbage and old car bodies cluttering up the rocky site.” The mayor told Variety, “We are lucky we have so much vegetation. It hides a lot of the trash on the roads.” However, Variety noted that “not all roadsides are overgrown and the litter can be readily seen.”
And what was the CNMI government’s response?
“The Department of Natural Resources has begun a cleanup program on public lands which include road shoulders, parks and beaches. But [according to the department director], ‘It is very discouraging. Our crews go out there, clean the place up on Friday, and on Monday it’s the same old **** again. We have got to do something to get the people to accept responsibility.” The Division of Environmental Quality, for its part, “has initiated a twice weekly trash pickup.”
Ten years later, Variety declared that “litter bugs in the Commonwealth may soon have to scatter and run like bugs in a TV commercial if the Littering Control Act of 1989 makes through the Senate and executive branch as it did the House of Representatives…. It will not just be [DPS] officers which litterbugs will have to be on the lookout for, as the bill gives authority of apprehension to designated employees” of six other government agencies. “Putting more teeth in litter laws is not the only intention of the bill” which also “has provisions aimed at fighting the litter problem through more public awareness.” The bill became law on Sept. 8, 1989.
Fast forward to 2016. The governor signed Public Law 19-53 “to improve enforcement and enhance the efficacy of the Litter Control Program.” It also stated that “more active enforcement of the Litter Control Act, combined with continual and effective public outreach and education, will promote a cleaner, more healthful, and more beautiful environment for the enjoyment of all the CNMI's residents and visitors.”
After years and years of reading so many bills and laws, I’ve finally realized why a lot of them are considered duds. They’re usually written like political press releases and, like many politicians, they tend to overpromise.
In the case of littering, why do we expect that it will “end, once and for all” if we enact an anti-littering law and enforce it? Generally speaking, laws — the Lord’s Ten Commandments included — don’t “work” that way. Is there really a need for a seat-belt law? It’s for our own safety as motorists and passengers. Yet despite the well-known existence of the seat-belt law and the penalties involved, there are still motorists who drive without a seat belt. Perhaps there is a need for a Universal Making Sure You Wear a Seat-Belt Task Force?
At any rate, compared to what they were in the past, the streets of Saipan are much cleaner now. Of course littering and illegal dumping are still happening — here and in so many other parts of the world — but on Saipan, they’re not as horrific as they were before. More important, regular cleanups continue and are led by devoted local residents like Max Aguon and various business establishments, community groups and government agencies.
Good job Saipan.
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