A lot of traffic goes over the elevatedRiverwalk under the Acosta Bridge and over the railroad tracks by the St. Johns River. I ride my bike there regularly, and earlier this year on one side of the path, I noticed manatees in the water, playing or whatever manatees do in their spare time. On the other side of the path, where the water meets land, there was a large swath of trash and debris.

On March 1, I pulled out my phone, took a few pictures and reported the blight on the MyJax app, which several other people with similar interests in cleaning up the city had suggested. A few days later, an administrator from the city advised me that the property was owned by the railroad, so there was no city jurisdiction. The administration said they would send a request for code compliance to the railroad.

Easy enough. I waited 30 days for
the outcome.

It was a gnat hitting a brick wall, apparently, because nothing was cleaned up.

On April 4, I contacted CSX, which informed me that Florida East Coast Railway (FECR) owned the property and that I should contact them.

I put in a request through the website and was eventually contacted by a nice, friendly lady who handled the request for the company to clean up the mess. She assured me that it would be cleaned up soon, adding that she loves the St. Johns River and doesn’t want it to revert to the polluted waterway of yesteryear.

I waited another month. The gnat was back, slamming against the brick wall tenaciously, but ineffectively.

On May 5, I used the online email form to contact FECR, writing:

Good afternoon,

I’m writing today to see where we are at on cleaning up the area by the tracks where the Acosta Bridge and the Riverwalk meet. The trash is located on the west bank of the St. Johns River and seems to be accumulating more and more. I had spoken with someone (I believe her name was Sherry and she thought that this was an illegal dumping call) regarding this nearly a month ago and am curious to see when it might be cleaned up.

I got a response a couple of days later from a gentleman named Robert Ledoux, senior vice president of the company. I felt very confident that he would get things done, considering his title.

His response was quite succinct. “FECR has looked into this and confirmed the trash is actually coming from debris in the river. We will take care of it. Thanks, Bob”

But by June 15, it looked like even more trash had accumulated. I felt like the detritus was laughing in my face as the waterfowl picked for food in between Styrofoam and cans. Now that I had a point of contact, I took to email again: “Hey Robert, Was just that way again and it looked pretty disgusting. Are you guys taking care of it or want me to get some people together to clean it up?”

He responded:

Jonathan: I was told we did clean it up several weeks ago. It is my understanding this is a location that the debrief [sic] drifts to from [sic] the river as a whole and not some random person putting trash at this location. If there is some type of volunteer program to handle this on a routine basis, that would be great.

I was glad that he knew about water currents and debris washing ashore, but I do quite a number of cleanups and didn’t want anyone to get in trouble for trespassing or getting hurt on the property. We went back and forth in correspondence for a couple of days.

Eventually I asked him if the trash had been cleared at any point, and if so, when, as it looked as if there was more debris than before.

He responded, “Trash was removed on 5/25. If there is new trash, it sounds like a perpetual problem. Bob”

“OK, do you have the resources to have a team out there to clean up when it gets rough? Am I OK to go out and survey the area for safety and potentially clean up a bit?”

“No, we do not have any resources. I will have our engineers take a look and see if a fence can be built. It appears without something, it is a losing battle.”

I waited a week. “Hey, Bob, what did the engineers figure out?”

“Our engineers do not have a simple solution but are looking at options.”

“OK. Let me know what they come up with. I’m chomping at the proverbial bit to get this mess ameliorated.”

Two weeks later, that same large piece of wood that I had been staring at on the river’s littered edge was still there. The gnat was getting tired.

July 7:
“Hey, Bob, Just wanted to check in and see if the engineers came up with anything yet to prevent the trash in the area?”

July 9:
“No, we do not have a permanent solution.”

July 27:
I rode my bike over the Riverwalk to go Downtown. The large piece of wood is still there, the vegetation has gotten tall, the gnat is hurting from the continued concussive force. I emailed Bob a couple times. “Hey, Bob, I haven’t seen any improvement on the area cleanliness. Are we still working on this?”

Despite the dismissal of my previous inquiry, I tried again for legal passage.

“Hey, Bob, [w]anted to get your approval to legally get onto the land there to try to get a clean-up going. Is this possible or do I have to contact another person in order to not get in trouble with trespassing or whatnot?”

That’s where we stand right now. It seems Bob has run out of answers and it’s getting pretty tough to see a company completely disregard their responsibility to clean up their property or allow someone else to do so. I understand there are safety and liability considerations, and all other kinds of legal fun to deal with, but there are waivers. There are people out there who want this river to be cleaner. Once I saw that trashed landscape, the only thing I wanted was for it to get cleaned up one way or another. I imagine there are others out there that see this when they use the Riverwalk, too, and are frustrated at being unable to see all of the beauty we have in Jacksonville because of the filth. The railroad will eat the fines and chug on down the line in their steel giants, not paying attention to the trash that lies at their wheels, but when the river gets sick, we have only our silence or willing blindness to blame.

Addington is a resident of Duval County and an advocate for cleaning up litter.