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Helmut Schmidt, Published April 29 2013

No butts about it: Arrival of spring means it’s time to clean up the streets

FARGO - The Big Sweep is coming.

Downtown, particularly along Broadway, will be getting extra attention for the next few days as city and Downtown Community Partnership crews clear a winter’s worth of cigarette butts, mini booze bottles, broken glass, wrappers and sand from the sidewalks, streets and gutters.

Sidewalk cleanup will be today and Wednesday, City Commissioner Mike Williams said, followed by street sweeping Wednesday night and Thursday morning.

“It’s a culture shock as soon as the snow goes,” Williams said Monday, promising Fargoans that “the Big Sweep” is indeed on the way.

Chalk up this year’s bonanza of cigarette butts in part to the law of unintended consequences.

Last fall, state voters overwhelmingly approved a sweeping indoor workplace smoking ban that prohibits smoking within 20 feet of the entrances of all businesses, including bars, restaurants and hotels.

That meant yanking from use the receptacles downtown businesses put near their doors in 2010’s “Don’t Flick It” drive, an effort to snuff out cigarette litter, Williams said.

“I think we goofed up” in not having any provisions for the receptacles, Williams said.

Initiative supporters “wanted to keep people 20 feet from entryways, but then the part they didn’t think of was, ‘Where are they going to put their butts?’ ” he said.

Fargo’s Public Works Director Ben Dow said crews are a month behind on street sweeping and other maintenance.

Dow said city workers started sweeping streets last week. He said the centers of the roads were cleaned first to make them safe for motorcyclists.

Crews began cleaning street islands and medians Sunday night, Dow said.

Fargo uses 6,000 to 8,000 tons of salt/sand mixture a year, Dow said, with about 7,000 to 7,500 tons used this year.

Three-quarters of that sand is reclaimed by street sweepers, then taken to the landfill and used for cover, Dow said.

Fargo’s street sweepers pick up 3.5 cubic yards a load. A dump truck holds 12 cubic yards, and the crews may fill six truckloads a night, Dow said.

Cleaning of city-owned rights-of-way and ditches by church groups, service clubs and other organizations is just starting, said Melissa Wolf, who coordinates that effort.

She said two or three of the 19 groups signed up for the volunteer clean-up have been out already.

Giving the brush-off

Moorhead crews began sweeping streets Monday, Operations Director Chad Martin said.

He said the center of the main roads will get the most attention to start.

Martin said it will take two weeks to get an initial brush-off of the sand and detritus left over from this winter, with a full good pass taking three weeks.

He said Moorhead spread thousands of yards of salt-sand mix to make driving easier over the winter.

“We’re going to raise some dust the first pass on through,” Martin said. “It’s like a little tornado going through.”

The worst cleanup won’t be on the roads, but on the city’s bike paths. The Red River leaves a goo that is tough to remove, he said.

“It’s like trying to sweep up Jell-O” Martin said.

So bicyclists might want to consider alternate routes for a couple of weeks after the flood.

“That’ll be pretty gooey and snotty on that for about three weeks yet,” Martin said.

West Fargo Public Works Director Barry Johnson said that city contracts street sweeping with Pro Sweep of Wahpeton, N.D.

“I believe they’re coming in next Monday,” Johnson said.

He said the initial cleaning takes four sweepers about two weeks.

Cleaning a spring thing

The grime left behind by when the snow melts isn’t solely an issue on streets.

At the Fargo Holiday Inn, winter is releasing its grip, one handlebar at a time.

Two mountain bikes have emerged from what’s left of a parking lot snow pile by the hotel’s loading docks.

Whether they belonged to guests or employees, the red and pink bikes are now thoroughly crusted with dirt and mud, their rear wheels locked in a stubborn chunk of ice.

It was a little spring fever that had Jessica Olson picking up trash in Monday morning’s bright sunshine. Olson, who works at the Fraser group home at 2726 18th St. S., Fargo, volunteered for the job.

In addition to coffee cup tops and other debris, she found lots of cigarette butts.

“We have some smokers,” she said.

But that’s not the worst of the sins uncovered by the sun’s rays.

At Olson’s apartment complex, someone had used the front lawn, rather than a toilet, to flush a fish out of their life.

“Someone threw out their aquarium fish. That was the nastiest thing I’ve seen,” Olson said.

Olson said the post-winter dirt and grunge is a citywide problem.

“There’s garbage everywhere,” she said. “I think people should get to (cleaning up) as soon as they can.”

Readers can reach Forum reporter Helmut Schmidt at (701) 241-5583