Lincoln Park resident John Wilmot’s regular yard-work duties not only include keeping his own grounds tidy, but also minding an adjacent lot on the corner of 12th and Park Streets NW. A lot, as it happens, that belongs to the city.

And it can be dirty, slimy work, too. “I clean up gutters every year by hand,” says Wilmot. But this year, when he left the fruits of his annual guck harvest on the corner in plastic bags, he found out the city was hardly appreciative. The bags were not removed, and the Department of Public Works (DPW) threatened Wilmot with a fine.

City regulations require that “all debris…be placed in legal containers in a manner so as to prevent litter,” says DPW spokesperson Vera Jackson in an e-mail clarification of the incident. “Plastic bags left at a location that is not an official point of collection contribute to litter in the area, and are subject to enforcement measures.”

The letter Wilmot received from DPW informing him of his violation allowed five days to remove the bags, but the letter arrived on the fifth day of the grace period. To avoid the $75 “enforcement measure,” Wilmot took the bags to the dump in the middle of a rainstorm.

“It’s ironic that I clean the gutters by hand, put the bags down…[and] I’m the guy who ends up getting the potential fine,” Wilmot says.

Jackson had some kind words for the proactive citizen—sort of. “The resident should be commended for maintaining the public space abutting his/her private property as required of all property owners in the District of Columbia,” she writes. “A clean city is everyone’s business.”

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