Fort Smith Directors Steve Tyler and Pam Weber called a special meeting with City Administrator Ray Gosack on Wednesday (Nov. 14) to discuss beautification concerns raised by the Beautify Fort Smith Committee.
Referring to a meeting last Thursday (Nov. 8), Weber cited “frustrations” committee members expressed about the short-term effect of the citywide cleanup on Oct. 20.
“With this last cleanup it didn’t seem like it lasted like the spring cleanup,” Tyler added. “The trash was immediately back on the streets within a week.”
By law cleanup of the interchanges are the responsibility of the Arkansas State Highway Department. As such, Gosack laid out the city’s options: request the Highway Department take on a more active role in policing the litter problem, use city resources “that should be spent on city streets” to combat the issue or “approach legislators about intervening on our behalf.”
Gosack believes that citizen-led committees, such as Beautify Fort Smith could be “more effective as constituents” in going through state legislators.
Referring to the “terrible” condition of the I-540 and Rogers Avenue interchange, Tyler said that “other communities, like Little Rock, do not seem to have these problems with their interchanges. What is it going to take? How do we make our I-540 look like Northwest Arkansas?”
For Gosack, the long-term solution is increased citizen involvement.
“It’s public attitude, and the way to change public attitude is through public education. Beautify Fort Smith could do that, but it has to be an ongoing, sustained effort. It’s not a once or twice per year thing,” he said.
Some of the ideas discussed at the meeting, which took place at La Huerta Restaurant on the corner of Old Greenwood Road and Gary Avenue, included bringing in guest speakers from groups like the Highway Department or from civic club sponsors taking an active role in other communities that are managing their interchanges more effectively.
Weber suggested working more closely with the Fort Smith Regional Chamber of Commerce as well on the grounds that “it’s an economic development issue as well as an aesthetic.” She also supported the idea of creating awareness of the problem through “billboards in each of the city’s four wards.”
Ward 1 Director-Elect Keith Lau, also in attendance, recommended the city look at creating a funding source to pay for ongoing cleanup efforts, suggesting “consideration of the lease of city land for cell tower use.”
Gosack added that state turnback money could be freed up to help with the issue as litter “could satisfy the surface transportation requirement” for funding, but pointed out that “the turnback money is only there for ten years. Then what do you do?”
As a result of last Thursday’s meeting, Beautify Fort Smith will continue to focus on three areas for citywide cleanup: raising accountability for businesses regarding the appearance of their properties, the problem of citizen apathy regarding the city’s appearance and the litter issues along I-540.