By: Ryan King
MARGAREE – FOX ROOST – With the weather warming, Roma Billard went out for a walk along Old Margaree Road when she came across a pile of illegally dumped garbage, directly adjacent to the cemetery where many of her family members were buried. While illegal dumping has been a problem for many years on the Southwest coast, the location was particularly shocking to Billard.
“It just blows my mind, to see how people can be so disrespectful of our environment, and especially right across from a cemetery,” said Billard.
Among the garbage dumped over an embankment by the cemetery are old tires, a barbecue, a toilet seat, and other large items. This was the first time that Billard had noticed the dumping by the cemetery, but it is not the first case of it she had seen in the area. At the entrance to Margaree-Fox Roost, tires, buckets, and other garbage had been dumped just feet from the river.
“I just hope that people will be more sensible, be more aware, and have pride in where we live. We live in such a beautiful environment, and I would like for people to take more caution and have more respect,” said Billard. “My mom, my dad, and my grandparents are all buried there in the cemetery, and it’s so sad to know that people can have such disrespect, knowing that the cemetery is there.”
It is not hard to find other cases of illegal dumping while touring the region. Driving up the Trans Canada Highway to MacDougalls, you can find the rusting wreck of a vehicle sitting in a popular ATV area, with rusted-out barrels and other garbage just meters away. Heading down the granite coast, just past Isle aux Morts, is a particularly massive illegal dump site, complete with moose carcass, broken beer bottles, bags of garbage, old tires, and metal scrap.
It may be that the increased fees to residents and the new sorting program introduced by Western Regional Waste Management (WRWM) in 2018 could be a factor in the illegal dumping.
“Right now, there’s a fee for garbage. I don’t know if this is kind of deterring some people to not dispose of their garbage, because of the money they have to pay. I don’t know if there could be some change there,” said Billard.
No matter the reason, garbage being dumped by the roadside is not a new problem.
Mayor Nelson Lillington of Isle aux Mort, responded through email, and noted that illegal dumping has been taking place in the area since he was a child. He didn’t think that the new WRWM program had played a significant factor.
Port aux Basques town councilor, and local WRWM representative, Melvin Keeping, also noted that illegal dumping has been an ongoing problem for years. He said that while there may have been what seemed like an increase in dumping complaints when the new policies were introduced, there are more than enough resources available for people with regards to their garbage. He says this issue is usually brought up every year in the springtime.
“I would say that most people are responsible and they use the tools available. For example, here in Port aux Basques, over the next two weeks we’re doing cleanup week. That’s for big items that you may have packed away over the winter months, or you have in storage, or you’re doing renovations. You know, it’s picked up at no cost to you. So, why would you take a washer or a dryer or a chesterfield and carry it and dump it in the woods, when your municipality can pick it up and have it delivered and it don’t cost you anything?” asked Keeping.
He stated that in addition to bulk garbage days, every household on the west coast can avail of a credit program with WRWM, where you are given 25-hours of free dumping that you can use throughout the year. He also noted that every effort is made between WRWM, local municipalities, and the provincial government in addressing cases of illegal dumping.
“You know, we work hand in hand. Each council, each local service district, and all the representatives from South Branch to Rose Blanche. In their own particular areas, if they find out about illegal dumping, they deal with it. It’s not for the board to deal with all of these, but there’s steps that could be taken that could get the Department of Environment on board to investigate, then we certainly can go that route as well,” said Keeping.
MHA Andrew Parsons (Burgeo – LaPoile), also noted that illegal dumping has been a persistent issue, especially in spring when the snow melts and people are cleaning up.
Regarding the impact of the new sorting program and fees, Parsons said, “I have no doubt that there are some people that refuse to recognize that waste management has to move forward into the 21st century, that there is a cost to ensuring that we leave behind a better world to our children and grandchildren. But again, the fees, you know, it’s about moving forward. This is something that is absolutely par for the course in so many other places in our country, and in the world.”
MHA Scott Reid (St. George’s – Humber), shared a similar stance.
“Some people use that as the reason why it happens, but I think we’re going to have to be sorting, and recycling, and things like that. There’s no going back on that sort of stuff. It’s something that’s got to happen. And in terms of the fees, I don’t think they’re completely unreasonable,” said Reid.
Aside from the environmental factors, there is also a major concern about the garbage along our walking trails and roadways and the negative impact on tourism.
“We live in a very beautiful area. It is unfortunate that people do not have respect for where they live, and feel it necessary to dump their garbage along the side of the roads, and in other areas that they think is hidden,” stated Lillington.
Though officials from municipalities and the provincial government are aware of the issue, there have been challenges in addressing it and catching those responsible. Lillington observed that when the dumping occurs outside the town limits, there is not much the municipalities can do. He suggests that education of residents is key, and encourages them to address any questions to their town hall.
“I see fridges, stoves, washer, dryers dumped, and this is just a case of people not being educated. There are a large number of items that are free to dispose of at the transfer point, and if someone is able to get those items from their house, and drop them along the side of the road somewhere, they are more than capable of getting it to the transfer point,” Lillington said.
Part of the problem may be that there appears to be no repercussions for those that dump their garbage illegally. A cursory search reveals that the RCMP has not laid a single charge against any individual for illegal dumping within the past two years in this region.
Parsons suggests that Newfoundlanders come together on this issue, and he is open to any ideas that may help, such as incentivizing reporting of illegal dumping by citizens. But even that may not help.
“The problem is that when you have a province like ours that is so non-densely populated, with tons of roadways, tons of geography, it is hard to ensure that these people are always caught. I mean, you get some of these people, they go out of their way to remain undetected,” said Parsons. “This is similar to a number of other crimes, where in this case it’s an offense of opportunity, where you go to where there is nobody. So, if you monitor one place, people will find another place to go to. That’s what makes this so difficult.
Continued Parsons, “Nor do I think is it on one person, or group, or government to combat it. I think it’s a responsibility for the provincial government, but I think that municipal governments, and citizens, have to play a role here. Everybody has a role to play when it comes to our environment.”
Reid also expressed the difficulties authorities face in prosecuting individuals.
“There are environmental compliance officers, here on the West coast. We probably don’t have enough, but Newfoundland is a big area, with a very sparse population in many places, and it is hard to monitor these sorts of things.”
Reid also mentions the efforts that the provincial government is making to educate the public about the dangers to the environment posed by illegal dumping, and the resources available to residents to get rid of their garbage safely.
“The answer is people need to have a different attitude about the environment. Part of what the government has done is encourage people to be more respectful of the environment through advertising, programs in schools, and I think that’s part of the solution to this problem. I think the public has a role to play in being vigilant in reporting any infractions that they see, and the government has a responsibility to follow up on any reports that are made,” said Reid.
Municipalities are fighting to do their part too.
“It’s been an issue, and in our meetings we all talk about it,” said Keeping. “It’s an ongoing problem and it only takes a few people to create these problems, and it’s too bad. Because people have to get responsible. We have to look after the environment. It’s our home. If we can’t do it for ourselves, we should do it for our children and our grandchildren and generations to come. I mean, we can’t destroy our environment. It’s our home.”