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When the snow melts, here comes the litter

Spring has come, there's a flood, and garbage lines the curbsides of Grand Forks. No, it's not like 1997, when the garbage heaped onto berms was a mass of soaked couches and sopped clothes, wrecked appliances and unreadable books: the accumulated...

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Spring has come, there's a flood, and garbage lines the curbsides of Grand Forks.

No, it's not like 1997, when the garbage heaped onto berms was a mass of soaked couches and sopped clothes, wrecked appliances and unreadable books: the accumulated and lost possessions of many lives.

Then, the debris was piled high, sadly but deliberately. This is less imposing but also depressing: the dusty bottles and flattened cans, the empty cigarette packs and plastic drink covers, the odd flip-flop and the undone homework assignment -- the casually strewn debris of a long winter, coated and framed by dirty melting ice and snow.

Take a mile-long stroll through just about any neighborhood in town and you could be in the junk business, or the recycling business. It's worse, it seems, in less affluent areas where rental properties predominate, and near convenience stores and fast-food restaurants where the snack wrappers and go-cups originate.

But on streets in nicer neighborhoods, too, there is ample evidence of the local popularity of Mountain Dew and Bud Light.

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"It's all over, no matter where you go," a man walking his dog down Chestnut Street said Thursday as they, man and dog, carefully skirted a reporter taking notes on a heap of cast-off stuff: three soggy Mountain Dew cases, torn plastic bags, a crushed Diet Coke can, an empty Bic lighter.

If the Red River was in the streets and homes of the city instead of rushing by, largely unseen behind $400 million worth of protection, people probably wouldn't notice or remark on the litter. Maybe it's a measure of residents' sense of security or complacency about the flood that makes the emerging detritus seem such an aesthetic affront.

The city conducts its annual spring cleanup drive the first week in May, public information officer Kevin Dean said. That is aimed primarily at leaves and twigs and other yard waste, much of it left over from last fall, gathered anew, packaged and placed by residents for easy pickup. But the city crews will take other junk in that drive, Dean said, and in time, individual neighborhoods may organize volunteer litter patrols.

"There's a pride in this community," he said. People out walking, jogging, playing with the kids, don't want to see trash scattered about their yards or their neighbors' yards. And the organized recycling of cans, cardboard and bottles goes on all year.

But it's easier for some people, apparently, to dispose of waste on the fly, to "cycle" a spent can or bottle or plastic hot-food container into a handy snowbank.

Nobody will notice ... until spring comes.

Lacking euphoria

In three blocks Thursday: Bud Light can. A red stocking cap. A student's school re-entry slip, signed but apparently not used. Bud Light bottle. Diet Coke can. Plastic milk jug. Marlboro pack, empty, the plastic wrapper in the wind. A debit card for a fast-food restaurant, not activated.

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A Reese's Pieces wrapper. Empty Old Gold pack. Empty water bottles, too numerous to count, and straws and plastic drink covers and bottle caps. One, two, three, four Mountain Dew cans in a cluster. Budweiser with Clamato can. Almond Joy wrapper. A small green bow -- from a wrapped birthday present? Maybe a Christmas present?

Another three-block stretch: Snickers wrapper, Coors Light can, half a bag of End Ice chemical for melting ("Keep out of the reach of children," it says on the bag). A black cotton shirt.

Here, on the sidewalk, lies an unopened three-gram package of Red Dawn Spark 20 Special Crop "euphoria enhancer." One such packet was listed for sale Thursday on eBay for $64.99. Did it slip from a pocket? Someone definitely is going to need some euphoria enhancer.

At the curb, an empty McDonald's bag catches in the breeze. A half-block down, a Chicken McNuggets package lies empty near the cover to a small container of chocolate chip cookie dough ice cream.

An empty toilet paper roll. A child's plastic baseball bat and a soggy jump rope. An Alerus fast-banking receipt. The customer withdrew $60, but it's OK; he still had a ledger balance of $859.92.

A bottle of Jack Daniels Lynchburg Lemonade, unopened. Shouldn't there be a "keep out of the reach of children" message? A 14-ounce package of cinnamon-flavored jelly beans, still holding about 10 ounces of sticky redness.

Across the street and in a church window well: an empty Bud Light can and a small plastic cup with remnants of what might have been cheese dip. A last supper?

Reach Haga at (701) 780-1102; (800) 477-6572, ext. 102; or send e-mail to chaga@gfherald.com .

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