En­vi­ron­men­tal court helps keep county clean

Vi­o­la­tors face $500 fines for lit­ter­ing

The Covington News - - FRONT PAGE - By Tyler Smith

In 2000, af­ter notic­ing an in­crease in lit­ter­ing and pol­lu­tion in the area, New­ton County, with the help of Keep Cov­ing- ton/New­ton Beau­ti­ful, formed the New­ton County Or­di­nance Vi­o­la­tion Court to curb the trou­bling trend.

“We found that cases deal­ing with the en­vi­ron­ment were not be­ing taken se­ri­ously,” said Con­nie Waller, ex­ec­u­tive di­rec­tor of KCNB. “A judge would hear a mur­der case and then have to hear a lit­ter­ing case, and the lit­ter­ing case did not seem as im­por­tant.”

Through Keep Ge­or­gia Beau­ti­ful, New­ton County and KCNB were able to se­cure money from the Ge­or­gia Solid Waste Trust Fund first to hire a code en­force­ment of­fi­cer and then be­gin the Or­di­nance Vi­o­la­tion Court.

In­for­mally known as the En­vi­ron­men­tal Court, the Or­di­nance Vi­o­la­tion Court is now headed by part time Mag­is­trate Judge John Dego­nia, who takes a per­sonal in­ter­est in keep­ing the area clean.

“I walk through my sub­di­vi­sion at least once a week pick­ing up trash off the side of the road,” Dego­nia said. “I take the en­vi­ron­ment very se­ri­ously. I also re­cy­cle.”

Dego­nia hears trails in the court ev­ery fourth Wed­nes­day on the month. He said, on av­er­age, 30 to 40 peo­ple are charged in En­vi­ron­men­tal Court ev­ery month.

“First a per­son is served with a ci­ta­tion and given a date and time to ap­pear in court,” Dego­nia said. “When they have their day in court, they can bring a lawyer and wit­nesses. The state then has their own wit­nesses who counter, and the per­son can be cross ex­am­ined. If found guilty, the per­son might be fined or be sen­tenced to com­mu­nity ser­vice like pick­ing up lit­ter on the side of the road.”

Cases are pros­e­cuted by part time so­lic­i­tor James Grif­fin who also works for the Law Of­fices of Tommy Craig. Dego­nia said vi­o­la­tors can be fined as much as $500 for lit­ter­ing.

“There has been a great growth in the county in the past sev­eral years which has re­sulted in a greater amount of lit­ter and trash on the road,” Dego­nia said.

In the seven years since the courts in­cep­tion, the docket of cases has evolved to tackle a wide ar­ray of is­sues.

“We’ve been able to ad­dress a lot of dif­fer­ent is­sues from keep­ing our wa­ter clean to soil ero­sion, which has be­come a ma­jor is­sue as the county grows,” Waller said. “I think it has been suc­cess­ful.”

The court also now han­dles cases in­volv­ing an­i­mal con­trol and ve­hi­cle codes.

Though the orig­i­nal grant money has since been del­e­gated to state level en­vi­ron­men­tal projects, the court con­tin­ues to grow with sev­eral code en­force- ment of­fi­cers now on staff.

Waller said the Ge­or­gia Gen­eral As­sem­bly could vote in 2008 to re­al­lo­cate the grant money to city en­vi­ron­men­tal projects.

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