Don’t reward bad behavior!



As an Environmental Planner who administers wetland regulations as part of my responsibilities, the most common problem I’ve encountered is not from the developers or original owners of new homes impacting wetlands, it is the subsequent homeowners and neighbors who are not located adjacent to the wetland. Why is this? From what I have gleaned from my years in the field, the developers generally know the regulations and most now try to design projects around the wetlands. Th can also sell lots adjacent to wetlands for higher prices. The original homeowners usually buy their home to enjoy the adjoining naturel feature and are largely better versed in the complexities of the regulations.

Meanwhile, subsequent homeowners and nearby neighbors are not as keenly aware of the regulations or in the case of neighbors, tend to think the wetland as the subdivision dumping ground. Add in a separate water features setback around the wetland and it is even more unlikely that subsequent homeowners will know what to do (or not to do).

As a result, fallen leaves, grass clippings, and yard waste often end up being dumped into the wetland, portions of the wetland get mowed or landscaped, or accessory structures like sheds and playhouses are constructed/placed within the wetland.  Sure, education campaigns have been employed, but those are only successful over a finite period of time while they occur. Newcomers are arriving all the time, so education must be nearly constant to achieve some level of success.

Punitive measures can and in certain malicious cases have been used. These certainly grab the offender’s attention, but whether that action translates into anything more than giving more ammunition to those who believe big brother is too busy oppressing the populace is a matter of debate. “I pay your salary,” is a common refrain heard.

Recently, some discussion has taken place whether free yard waste disposal should be considered to alleviate a portion of the illegal dumping problem. My thoughts are that this would be exactly the WRONG thing to do. Why, you may ask?

To me, offering free yard waste disposal rewards the bad behavior of those who are not following the law or their civic duty. It also places another financial burden on the community, at a time when budgets are tight, costs are rising, and precious funds could be going to other critical issues. While environmentalists, including myself may consider wetland protection a critical issue, it is unlikely to ever reach the threshold of police and fire protection in the general public’s mind. Wetlands have many benefits to humans including filtering pollution, as well as storage of storm and floodwaters, but those are difficult concepts to articulate to the average person compare to public safety issues.

Furthermore, if people are so lazy that they cannot rake and bag up their leaves/yard waste to take them to the proper disposal location for a reasonable $3 per bag fee, then most will also not take the necessary time to do it if it was offered for free.  Lastly, one should not have to pay residents to take pride in their community. That should come intrinsically. As should asking questions before starting a project.

Granted, there will always be those who will act before asking, no matter how hard you try to prevent it. Hopefully, on-going education campaigns and constant reminders via brochure, email, website, and other means will limit those unfortunate situations as much as possible. Another method to consider is direct meetings with realtors and homeowner associations.

Perhaps I am wrong here and I am being an old stick in the mud (bad pun when speaking of wetlands), but civic responsibility requires action and effort on everybody’s part, not just a few. Let’s all start acting that way.

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4 Responses to Don’t reward bad behavior!

  1. I suggest a technique we are describing in a Civic Stewardship to Councils in Northern Ireland. This involves joining “Friends” and “Neighbours” with places which have none or too few. The following is a local description of responsibilities and benefits of both.

    It is pro-active and I hope may be of interest.

    An open invitation is extended by public advertisement and media announcement to people and groups who wish to register as Friends and/or Neighbours of THIS PLACE

    The role of a Friend is as an active user who benefits from and brings benefits to the place,
    The responsibilities of being a Friend are to:
    a) register public liability insurance with Council and maintain it from year to year
    b) register and comply with health, safety and safeguarding policies
    c) undertake to become a responsible keyholder of THIS PLACE
    d) subscribe to a database to book and record all uses – database is available in public and includes a register of each Friend’s use in a “my THIS PLACE” section
    e) comply with Council’s stewardship regulations and by-laws (for use, management, tending and cleaning)
    f) share any direct net financial benefit with Council according to an agreed formula which differs for commercial, community and registered charitable Friends
    The benefits of being a Friend are to have:
    a) free use of the place at any available time
    b) opportunities to contribute to the civic quality of the place
    c) opportunities to increase profile of Friend’s activities
    d) potential for commercial/fundraising benefit
    e) opportunity to “meet the Chair/Mayor” each year, Friends are invited to meet the Chair/Mayor of the Council to receive a certificate and share stewardship experiences, intelligence and ideas.

    The role of a Neighbour is as an adviser to Council on stewardship of THIS PLACE and an active carer of the place for the benefit of neighbours and users; Neighbours meet with Council officers from time to time as required for the public benefit.
    The responsibilities of being a Neighbour are to:
    a) advise Council on stewardship ambitions and needs of THIS PLACE and wider neighbourhood
    b) be a responsible keyholder as appropriate by agreement and actively tend and care for THIS PLACE in roles agreed with Council
    c) respect and comply with Council’s health, safety and safeguarding policies
    d) advise Council or emergency services as appropriate of anything which appears untoward about THIS PLACE’s use (“Neighbourhood Watch” role)
    The benefits of being a Neighbour are to have:
    a) ability to make a continuing contribution to the improvement of THIS PLACE, advising the Council and agreeing direct action when appropriate
    b) ability to rapidly share ideas and intelligence to improve the overall quality of life in THIS PLACE and the wider neighbourhood
    c) opportunity to “meet the Chair/Mayor”; each year Neighbours are invited to meet the Chair/Mayor of the Council to receive a certificate and share stewardship experiences, intelligence and ideas.

    Neighbours and Friends have different roles but it is possible to be involved as both a Neighbour and a Friend. Neighbours and Friends continue to enjoy the benefits for as long as they meet their responsibilities.


  2. I really like the basic idea of Friends and Neighbors of a place. There are too many areas in some kind of protected natural status, like Forest Preserves, which are administered by the government and helped with some ad hoc or regular volunteers; but there is no local group of neighbors which has an explicit relationship with the parcel of land, as protectors etc.
    As for yard waste and leaf disposal, I think the entire system must be designed to work for all. You probably have to ask people where their trouble points are in their process, which prompt them to get tired and do the wrong thing. The remedies must be designed and implemented.


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