Cleaning-up Arizona’s Highways

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Cornville, Arizona resident Gary Chamberlain talks about his efforts to improve Arizona’s methods of removing trash from the State’s highways.

Ted Simons: The Arizona department of transportation sponsors an adopt a highway program that lets individuals, organizations, and businesses adopt a two-mile stretch of highway from which they promise to remove litter at least three to four times a year. But a Verde Valley man says the program isn't getting the job done. Vietnam veteran Gary Chamberlain is tired of the trash and he's recruiting folks to help him get rid of it, even if it means stepping on the toes of ADOT and existing volunteers. I recently spoke with Chamberlain about his plan to start a movement that he refers to as Folksville USA. Thank you for joining us on "Arizona Horizon."

Gary Chamberlain: I'm tickled to be here.

Ted Simons: Good. I want to find out what got you started with this, picking up trash, cleaning highways in Arizona.

Gary Chamberlain: I moved to Cornville, Arizona, and I'm a cyclist. Two of us who are cyclists rode our bike from cottonwood to Sedona. And we were disgusted by the amount of trash we saw. It was so bad we knew we had to take steps to try to improve this situation are and when we tried to do is to get the adopt a highway groups who had their names on the signs to honor their commitment to the adopt a highway program, which you may or may not know is three times a year or more, and the or more applies to a scenic highway. And it's been a battle for about four years, but three years ago we hit a high mark, went on November 11th we had over 300 people on 30 miles of highway between cottonwood and -- and cottonwood and Sedona and picked up 404 bags of trash, not to include two mattresses and that was huge. That showed that the groups were coming together and recognizing that working as a team, things worked better.

Ted Simons: Are you working with the adopt a highway program, or separate and apart from that? How does this work?

Gary Chamberlain: As a citizen and as an adopt a highway participant, because myself and another person who started this four years ago, we have adopted two miles, one on highway 260 and 89 A, we worked the two in tandem. We're out of the box in many ways. We conform to the adopt a highway rules in many respects, and other respects we're trying to get ADOT to employ techniques we're looking at. If we can get them to rewrite their regulations.

Ted Simons: What kind of techniques?

Gary Chamberlain: Such as not allowing someone who has a one-mile section adopted not to be able to claim somebody else's section. Can you imagine cleaning up your one-mile section where it's spotless, and being on either side of somebody who doesn't? ADOT does not allow that.

Ted Simons: Why?

Gary Chamberlain: You would have to -- it violates their regulations.

Ted Simons: OK.

Gary Chamberlain: The other thing they ask is that you give a five-day notice when you pick up. In this day and age, how many people who are volunteers know what they're doing five days from now? So another improvement to the program would be to allow people to go out and pick up just whenever they get the opportunity. That would really make it at their convenience, they're volunteers. To go pick up when they want.

Ted Simons: I understand there's some sort of $10 per bag of trash effort that you're involved with as well. What does that all mean and is what you're doing volunteer work, or is it a for-profit venture?

Gary Chamberlain: In this case it's for-profit. I am running a for-profit, have a profit-loss income statement. I went to the local businesses after doing what I've been doing for three years to get these adopt a highway groups to join in the team concept. I said will you pay me personally for every $10 or bag of trash I pick up on the highway? I was given $2,000 in about three days, about three months later I went back to a different business and got another $2,000, I have picked up by myself over 400 bags of trash, at $10 a bag, and we're doing this as per the story in the bugle to get the kids to come out and use this as a fund-raiser so they put me out of business so I can be more like the may tag repairman.

Ted Simons: But if you're doing something that ADOT keeps a close eye on, has its regulations as you said, shouldn't you be working with ADOT as opposed to maybe ADOT having these concerns regarding your group?

Gary Chamberlain: ADOT should have no concern, because here's the stat -- you can ride your bike and run down any of these highways. As an individual, you should be able to reach over and pick up a bag of -- a piece of trash and put it in a bag. If some business wants to pay you to do that because you're making their community look good, ADOT has not given me one ounce of a reason why I can't do that. I'll push that to the end.

Ted Simons: It sounds like ADOT does have concerns about the safety of folks being on the side of the highway, and safety in the medians as well. I know it's a big thing you getting the medians clean, but ADOT says that's a safety hazard.

Gary Chamberlain: First of all, the people out there during the group efforts, that is all done per the letter to the adopt a highway program. They're cleaning the shoulder. Long before I ever got involved in this, people 50 and over were cleaning the medians because I gotta tell you, they don't believe in doing a halfway job. There's another word for that. You know what it is. It's a body part. So if ADOT is not going to clean those medians, these other groups who are volunteers, they're going to go clean them. That's how they were raised.

Ted Simons: That's how they were raised, but you understand ADOT's concern, especially if children are involved, regarding medians in highways. There is a safety factor there and the state doesn't want to be liable for those folks.

Gary Chamberlain: The most of the people you're calling children are probably 40-plus-year-old. There's a group of women who are part of the adopt a highway program in cottonwood who take their kids out on the days they clean up and when they're done, they go clean from the sidewalk off into the brush in the city of cottonwood.

Ted Simons: But kids are involved and you are trying to recruit kids.

Gary Chamberlain: No, no. Not recruiting kids. Kids, if you call kids 12 and over, that's what we're recruiting. That's what the ADOT rules are. 12 and over to be part of the adopt a highway program.

Ted Simons: You call your group Folksville USA. What's that all about?

Gary Chamberlain: Those of us who got involved in this thing became very frustrated with ADOT even willingness to work with ideas and thoughts. It was not workable. So we said, let's come up with our own name for a virtual town, we chose Folksville USA, because we thought that if it could take off and not only reach statewide attention, it could go national to get people to be involved in something that they coined their own phrase to get involved.

Ted Simons: Judging from what I've seen in the paper, the stories and comments, it sounds like you're rankling a lot of folks there because you're doing it my way or the highway, kind of an approach. Is there a better way to work with others? Or is this the way it's got to be?

Gary Chamberlain: I've asked the director of ADOT through his secretary, whose name is Mary, to sit down and have a meeting as much as three years ago. We have never been responded to. The feathers being rankled are those people with their names on the signs who aren't honoring their commitment. We have 30 groups who are 90% honoring their commitment. We as taxpayers pay ADOT employees to manage a program that they can't seem to manage. And you bring these points up, I think the mature thing would be for the director of ADOT, not one of the people he throws to be a barrier in the progress of helping the state to sit down and meet with us.

Ted Simons: So I guess my last question for you would be who decided that you would be the one to make sure others and even governmental -- governmental agencies I can understand, but others honor their commitment?

Gary Chamberlain: I'm a taxpayer. You're a taxpayer. And if ADOT isn't going to see these groups honor their commitment to the program, who is? So the group of us who started Folksville USA, because I'm outspoken and very passionate about this, said, you be the voice for us. We're behind you. Let me just say this -- of the $4,000 that's been donated to me you don't think those 100 businesses or so are behind this thing? Maybe those are the people you should be going to ask. I have asked ADOT to authorize me personally, just me, this individual, to clean those medians. I said I'll sign a release of waivers. They won't do it. I'll clean the medians.

Ted Simons: I certainly hope you and ADOT can get together and you and the other groups cleaning the highways can all get together and maybe we can temper all of our messages and keep Arizona beautiful. Thank you so much for joining us.

Gary Chamberlain: One last thing, all those other groups, I don't tell them to clean the medians; they were doing it long before I came along.

Ted Simons: Good to have you here.

Gary Chamberlain: Thank you.

Gary Chamberlain:Resident, Cornville;

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