Borough ordinance draws ire from South Side veteran

Because of the Multiple Separate Storm Sewer System, or MS4 program mandated by the federal government, it is illegal to allow grass clippings that have sprayed from a lawnmower into the street to remain there and eventually reach a storm drain. Ernie Eakin, of South Williamsport, found this out when he received a notice of violation, with a $25 fine attached to it, in the mail.

Eakin, 98, is a lifelong resident of the borough and a decorated World War II veteran. According to a post on his daughter’s Facebook page, he is unable to reach the street unassisted.

He said he contracted with someone to mow his yard and, unknown to him, grass had landed in the street. The person who had mowed the yard forgot to sweep up the grass clippings, his daughter said.

The borough’s zoning and codes officer, Tom Packard, saw the grass, took a photo of it and issued the citation.

“It has to be an amount of grass that’s visible,” according to the borough official, who noted that if it’s not much, he doesn’t do anything.

The photos that he takes of the grass are used as evidence if and when the case goes to court, he said.

And, yes, according to the codes officer, Eakin’s property was in violation.

“I’m not a totally mean person,” Packard said. “I follow the ordinance. Borough council dictates what I do. I do what they tell me. I enforce ordinances and that’s one of the ordinances.”

Stephen Cappelli, South Williamsport’s borough manager, echoed that fact.

Cappelli said the ordinance is part of the borough’s MS4 plan that was submitted to the state in October.

“The ordinance was adopted by council and they can modify or change it,” he said.

He added that council will be looking into the enforcement component of the ordinance in the future to decide if there should to be a warning before a citation is issued or if the ordinance should stand as written. He said he expects it to be a discussion item on the next council meeting’s agenda, but that there would be no legislative action taken at that time.

According to what Packard has heard from social media accounts, Eakin was more concerned with the way he received notice of the violation than the fine attached to it, which he has since paid. He said he understood that the elderly man questioned why no one came to his door to let him know about the grass clippings.

“I do not knock on doors,” Packard said. He contends if he did that for one case, he’d have to do it for all of them.

He also stated usually he finds more than one violation in an area, which was the case with Eakin. Packard said on the day he cited Eakin, he had also cited a neighbor above Eakin and one below.

When contacted for comment, Eakin’s daughter said the borough had not contacted them about this issue, but they feel that media reports have achieved the purpose they originally had — to bring the issue to the notice of the community. The family declined to comment further.