If you live in the Folwell, Webber-Camden or Hawthorne neighborhoods, in January you will have gotten a sternly-worded letter from the Minneapolis Solid Waste & Recycling department. The purpose of the letter was to warn residents in these three neighborhoods that the City of Minneapolis would be billing us $75 or more to clean up litter, garbage, yard waste or illegal materials (such as tires and building debris) that were found in our area of responsibility — described as within a 20 ft. radius of our alley or curb line.
I live in Folwell and am a good neighbor. I pick up litter that finds itself onto my property or that pollutes the streets surrounding my house. I will grab pieces of garbage as I walk through the park. Many of us have such regular rituals. Because there is no denying it; litter is a huge problem here on the Northside. While I was pleased to find that the City shares our concerns about littering, the tone in the City’s letter did not seem like an invitation to collaborate with their efforts to keep our streets clean. Rather, it was delivered as a dire warning.
So, I decided to learn more about the origin of these letters with a view to providing some constructive feedback to the City. I was pretty certain it was not their intent to alienate the very people whose cooperation they needed to tackle this issue.
This is what I learned through a number of calls I made to the Solid Waste & Recycling department and with speaking to the department’s director, David Herberholz.
The Accelerated Cleanup Program
The letter received by Folwell, Webber-Camden and Hawthorne residents relates to something called the Accelerated Cleanup Program. While all Minneapolis residents have an obligation to clean up garbage on and around their property, any Minneapolis neighborhood operating under the Accelerated Cleanup Program is bound by more stringent rules.
Below I have listed the critical pieces of information that are not explained in the letters received by Folwell, Webber-Camden and Hawthorne residents.
Even if your neighborhood is not on the Accelerated Cleanup Program, you may want to pay attention to the following points regarding the City’s clean up requirements:
- What makes this an “accelerated” program? Because residents in a neighborhood on the Accelerated Cleanup Program only have until the next business day to clean up. The rest of the City’s neighborhoods (there are 70 in the City) have one week. We all have to clean up. It is a matter of how much time the City gives you to take care of any issues –that is important to understand in order to avoid a fine.
- Your area of responsibility is within a 20 ft. radius of your garbage collection point (either in the alley or on the curb line). It is not a 20 ft. radius of your entire property, which is how the letter reads.
- All Minneapolis residents will get a heads up in the form of a blue tag attached to your garbage can if the garbage crews (that in many cases are independent contractors) determine that your area needs to be cleaned up. Be sure to check your garbage can after it has been emptied. Unless your pickup day is Friday, in theory the City could be by the next morning to clean up and levy a fine if you live in an Accelerated Cleanup Program neighborhood.
- The fine will be added to your water bill, so could be missed if you are set up on auto pay or aren’t checking your bill carefully each month.
- Illegal garbage dumps that are made in or around empty lots are supposed to be governed by the same clean up rules; whether the neighborhood is on the Accelerated Cleanup Program or not. These lots do, after all, have registered owners. However, historically, some of the most egregious littering issues have not been handled to the same standards applied to home owners and also landlords, and garbage has been left for weeks without being cleaned up by the City.
Why only Folwell, Webber-Camden and Hawthorne?
It is not random. A number of years ago, the City contacted Minneapolis neighborhood associations to invite them to sign up their neighborhood for the Accelerated Cleanup Program. Once a neighborhood association signed up, unless someone from that association specifically informed the City that their neighborhood did not want to participate, they were automatically opted into the Program the following year.
Power lies with your neighborhood association
The City sends a letter to the participating neighborhood associations around October each year. This letter explains everything about the Program that is currently missing from the letter that goes out to actual residents. It even includes a sample of the blue tag that is our only heads up that we could be fined. Very critically, it offers to send a City representative to a neighborhood association board meeting so that residents can learn more about the Program.
When a neighborhood association receives this letter from the City, it provides them with the opportunity to either continue the following year or opt out of the Program. If this letter falls through the cracks, or a board chooses not to bring it to the attention of the neighborhood as a whole, then residents are unlikely to have a chance to make their voices heard on how they feel about this Program.
Note: In Folwell’s case, the Folwell Neighborhood Association (FNA) board was going through a major transition in late 2017, the City did not get a response to their letter, so Folwell continued on the Program again this year. However, following some lively social media exchanges, taking a poll via the Folwell neighborhood Facebook page, and good old fashioned neighborly discourse, enough questions were raised about the perennial letters and the Accelerated Cleanup Program, that during the April FNA board meeting, the board unanimously voted to opt out of the Program.
If you live in or own property in one of the currently-participating neighborhoods and have concerns or questions about the Accelerated Cleanup Program, contact your neighborhood association board of directors. Ask them to ensure residents get an opportunity to provide input. Invite the folks from Solid Waste & Recycling to attend an association meeting.
For all questions about solid waste and recycling, including the Accelerated Cleanup Program and illegal dumping issues, call the City at 612-673-2917.