Gwinnett Clean & Beautiful alive, well - and working

With all the organization has been through in the past year, do people think that Gwinnett Clean and Beautiful is still a viable and valuable entity in the county? That's the question I posed to Connie Wiggins, executive director of GC&B.

"That's hard to say," she said. "But we are alive and well and still working ... to make sure our county is cleaner, greener and better."

To that end, Wiggins and a group of eight to 10 people from the organization's citizen advisory board are touring the county on Thursday. They'll be armed with clipboards and survey sheets, on the look out for litter as part of its annual Litter Index.

GC&B has been using the Litter Index since 2000, when it was a pilot program for what has become a national tool for Keep America Beautiful. On Thursday groups of scorers and drivers will tour more than 100 sites around Gwinnett in an attempt to get an overall view of what shape the county is in.

"We take a look at various land uses and demographics to create a portrait of the county," Wiggins said. "And we'll also go to so many sections of road miles."

The Litter Index, developed for Keep America Beautiful by former Environmental Protection Agency deputy director Dr. Win Porter, is designed to assess the physical appearance of a community, specifically in regard to visual litter, loose trash and waste that has improperly been put out.

"The data obtained through the Litter Index will determine the types of community improvement programs we need to address current conditions, and to achieve a cleaner, safer, healthier and more livable community," Wiggins said. "It certainly gives us a way to assess litter on an annual basis."

The results will be available this fall, and they can help spot trends and can also be sorted by ZIP codes, giving the organization snapshots of the county that can be compared year to year. This year GC&B has expanded the survey to include graffiti and other community appearance issues.

But as Wiggins and GC&B prepare for Thursday's tour they are also thinking of the future. With the county prison slated to be closed by 2011 due to budgetary concerns, the free labor provided by prisoners will be gone as well.

That has GC&B wondering where the help will come from and how the areas that it is touring this week will be affected by the move.

"One of the questions is: Who is going to pick that up?" Wiggins said of the slack that will have to be made up for with the loss of county prison help. "Our concern is we could see worsening conditions, and we would like to avoid that ... The correctional institution has been a huge resource for the county that, in many cases, is overlooked.

"We want to be proactive. If (the closing of the prison) does come to pass, are there other things we can be working on before it does become a big problem?"

That question will have to be answered down the line. But for now Wiggins is preparing for Thursday and GC&B is alive and well and working.

E-mail Todd Cline at todd.cline@gwinnettdailypost.com. His column appears on Wednesdays.