OKALOOSA ISLAND — Tourists couldn't be blamed this time for the trash on the shoulder and median near the Marler Bridge.
Residents traveling across Okaloosa Island have seen an increase in debris decorating both sides of U.S. Highway 98. Beer cans, cardboard and even a political campaign sign were strewn between the sand dunes and road Wednesday.
Megan Betancourt, founder of Coastal Community Cleanup, said her nonprofit group has received phone calls recently asking for help with the problem.
Betancourt said she is shocked to see so much trash along the 4.5-mile stretch of U.S. 98, especially during the winter.
"I think the county should be a little more active in keeping U.S. Highway 98 on either side clean," Betancourt said. "From an environmental standpoint, it should be a top priority. If we get a hurricane or a huge storm, all of the trash is very susceptible to getting into the bay. The bay goes straight into the Gulf, which can harm the marine life."
According to Jason Autrey, director of the Okaloosa County Public Works Department, it is not the county's responsibility to pick up litter on the island. However, the county does have a contract with Eglin Air Force Base to empty the 15 to 20 trash cans at beach access points, he said.
Florida Department of Transportation spokeswoman Tanya Branton confirmed that the FDOT is responsible for cleaning up the mess. Branton said the department sent a crew out Wednesday to clean up the debris after being contacted by the Daily News.
Ferrovial, a company contracted under the Department of Asset Maintenance, goes out about three time a week to clean up trash on the island, Branton said. A subcontractor with Ferrovial was to start a monthly trash cycle on the island Jan. 4.
"Okaloosa Island is a high-priority area," Branton said. "Large trucks traveling on Okaloosa Island to go to transfer stations can cause high debris."
An Adopt-A-Highway sign is posted on the west side of Marler Bridge, but no group has "adopted" the stretch to pick up litter. A phone number, 800-226-5488, is on the sign for interested groups to call.
Betancourt said her volunteer crew would be up for the task, but first must raise money for safety vests and other gear.
Branton said groups that sign up for the task are required to pick up the litter four times a year. The last time a group volunteered to clean the area was in April 2018.
"If there is anyone in Okaloosa County who would like to adopt a section of the state roadway, we encourage them to do it," Branton said.