Concerns with maintenance crews and grass clippings? Call proper agency

Updated: Aug. 16, 2018 at 1:46 PM EDT
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RICHMOND, VA (WWBT) - City and state agencies urge you to contact them first if you have concerns about maintenance crews leaving grass clippings in the roadway creating a hazard to the traveling public.

After NBC12's On Your Side story about grass clippings potentially leading to a misdemeanor charge, several people in the community raised questions as to whether the law applies to city public works and the Virginia Department of Transportation.

"All laws apply to everyone, private citizens, government employees… everyone," said NBC12 legal analyst Betty Layne DesPortes. "Differences come, however, when statutes include the phrase "unlawfully" or "without authority"."

According to VA Code 18.2-324, grass clippings in the road could be a violation of the law if they create a hazard to the traveling public. On some roads, this includes not only cars, but bicycles and motorcycles.

Several viewers said maintenance crews for the Richmond Department of Public Works (DPW) have left grass clippings all over roads like Chamberlayne Avenue, Brookland Park Boulevard, Brook Road and Monument Avenue.

"DPW Ground Maintenance crews are responsible for a variety of services, one of which is grass cutting in median areas within the city," said Richmond DPW spokeswoman Angela Fountain. "Typically, when grass is cut along a median, the clippings are blown back onto the median by the crews. However, with the constant rain that the Richmond area has experienced, the grass in these medians has grown much taller than usual."

Fountain added locations that normally would not require a street sweeper have needed one because the clippings could not be blown back onto the medians.

"This is typically not the case," she said. "DPW Clean Cut crews operate under a very aggressive schedule to ensure areas are serviced in the city. In light of the complications caused by the recent rains, our plan, at this time, is to assign DPW Clean Cut Crews to follow the median crews with backpack blowers. Street Sweepers will be utilized when necessary. Grass crews will be blowing the clippings back onto the median when applicable."

Again, small clippings directly along the side of the road would not be in violation of the statute.

"The statute applies only if the clippings "create a hazard to the traveling public", not "may create", but actually create a hazard," DesPortes said. "That is going to be the rare circumstance, not the ordinary grass clippings. [Additionally] the person has to deposit or cause to be depositing the clippings."

Grass clippings that blow into the roadway after being collected in a yard, for example, would not break the law.

"It's best to document [the situation] with photos and report the incident to the public agency," DesPortes said.

"We do our best not to leave grass clippings in the road," said Henrico Director of Public Works Steven Yob. "People should contact our agency with any concerns."

Fountain added anyone with concerns in the Richmond city limits should contact Public Works first and offered several ways for customers to report those concerns.

"Recently launched is RVA311 which also has a mobile app that allows customers to report issues on the spot," Fountain said. "This platform acknowledges receipt of service requests and sends a status report of the issues to the email entered by the customer when reporting their concern."

"VDOT's first priority is safety, and that includes all practices associated with mowing and roadside maintenance," said VDOT spokeswoman Bethanie Glover. "During mowing operations, VDOT crews and contractors are always on the lookout for potential safety hazards, including debris and overgrowth. If any debris is deemed to be a roadway hazard, then crews take corrective action."

Drivers and residents are able to report potential road hazards to VDOT's Customer Service Center which is available 24 hours a day, seven days a week, online or by calling 800-FOR-ROAD (800-367-7623).

Again, grass clippings left on the road are not likely to create any hazard for cars, but if the clippings are thick or wet they could very easily cause traction problems for cyclists.

DesPortes said if the grass clippings create a traveling hazard, a person would be charged with a Class 1 misdemeanor, carrying a penalty of up to 12 months in jail and a fine of $2,500.

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