It came as no surprise that Scott Stanfield’s article on illegal back road dumping drew a lot of attention.
Surprised? No. Happy? Yes.
The outrage expressed by many who responded on our website and Facebook page indicates that people are fed up, and that’s a good thing.
Outrage leads to change.
First to address the misplaced blame for the problem.
Do not blame the government for this one; this is not the regional district’s fault.
Have tipping charges increased? Yes. So has the price of bread, but I don’t see toast being thrown around.
Price increases are a fact of life. If the $10 tipping charge were the main culprit for the illegal dumping, this would be a new issue, as the tipping charges only went up last summer. But this is not a new problem.
People have been dumping illegally along our back roads for a long time.
The only ones at fault are the faceless, unidentified criminals who think there’s nothing wrong with dumping their unwanted fridge along my hiking paths.
The bigger issue is: what can be done about the problem?
For inspiration, I direct you to the city of Grande Prairie, Alberta. Now, I know what you’re saying: “How can an ‘oil city’ in redneck Alberta teach us anything at all about being environmentally conscious?”
Grande Prairie has been facing the same situation with illegal dumping as we have here. There’s a vast area of Crown land just south of that city called “the Dunes”. It is, literally, a sand-based dune area, perfect for all the ATVers, dirt bikers, horseback riders and four-wheel-driving fans in northern Alberta.
It’s also a favourite spot for illegal dumping.
Or, at least, it was.
In 2009, the people in the community decided to do something about it, and The Annual Dunes Cleanup was born.
Every spring, volunteers converge in the popular recreation area, gloves on, sleeves rolled up, to tackle the garbage issue.
In the first five years of the program, more than 400,000 pounds of garbage has been removed from the site.
Corporations are on board with the cleanup initiative.
Companies come with their trucks, their pickers, their staff, their bins.
Porta-potties are set up.
Refreshments are brought out for volunteers.
The Environment and Sustainable Resource Development office has even gone as far as to set up year-round remote cameras to catch the culprits in the act.
The photos have then been used to track down the dumpers and confront them with their actions. Some photos have even been distributed to media partners and placed on social media for public shaming purposes.
Have these initiatives solved the problem? No. At least not yet. But every year, as more people and more community corporations become involved in the cleanup, the sense of ownership of the area becomes more personal.
The Annual Dunes Cleanup in Grande Prairie has evolved into one of the most encompassing community service days of the year there – people actually becoming part of the solution, instead of simply throwing money at an issue and hoping others will deal with it.
So let’s take a page out of Grande Prairie’s book.
In the coming weeks, the Record will provide more details on our own cleanup day. In the meantime, consider this a call-out, to residents, businesses, other media.
The Comox Valley is one of the most naturally beautiful areas in this great country of ours. Join me in helping to keep it that way.
Terry Farrell is the editor of the Comox Valley Record