Pitt Meadows resident Robert Mullin wanted to get his neighbours angry over boats left to slowly decompose in waterways around the community, and he succeeded.
Those many upset residents will now be happy to hear help is on the way.
On Saturday, Mullin put up a social media post with photos of boats and a partly submerged building that are polluting the Alouette River, along with an ironic “Happy Earth Day” and a reference to “The Natural Place,” which is Pitt Meadows’ motto.
The result was more than 100 angry and frustrated comments in the Pitt Meadows Community Facebook Page, many raising questions about which level of government is responsible for the cleanup, why the owners aren’t held responsible, and observations that this has been an ongoing issue.
Mullin told The News that the site of this mess is on the Alouette River, just west of Harris Road. It is not visible from the road. Mullin walks a lot, and finds a lot of junk left in and beside waterways around the city.
“This isn’t the only place, but it’s pretty striking,” he said.
It has been a mess for years, but recently has gotten worse. The building had been a home for squatters, he said, before it fell into the river. Now he worries about propane tanks in the building and boat motors polluting the waterways.
Sophie Sparrow, spokesperson for the Alouette River Management Society (ARMS), said her group is part of an effort to get these derelict vessels and other debris removed, with the help of the non-profit Dead Boats Disposal Society.
”I came across the same (Facebook) post and have seen many posts over the years – it is devastating to the Alouette River!” said Sparrow. “This is actually something ARMS is working on with the support from City of Pitt Meadows and Dead Boat Society.
“We have a scheduled tour of the site for Friday, April 28, with a debrief meeting to follow on the scope of the work and who is responsible. We have contacted the federal, provincial and municipal governments, all of which say it’s the others’ problem.”
John Roe is the Dead Boats Removal Society founder, and sounds confident that the cleanup will get done – provided they can do more than just the mess Mullin documented.
Roe said his group contracts barge and crane, which would make short work of the unsightly site. The crew from their industrial partners has removed about 250 boats. But with the cost to get to Pitt Meadows, they want to know about more dead boats they can remove, to make it worthwhile.
“It takes a little bit of time, and a lot of money,” said Roe. “We generally don’t do the small stuff.”
He was reluctant to offer a quote, but said the cost will run into the hundreds of thousands of dollars.
“It’s do-able, but if we’re going to bring in a barge and crew, tell us where there’s more, and we’ll make it worthwhile.”
They will do drone work, and diving in the river, to take stock of what needs to be removed. Roe said it’s usually shocking to see what’s there with a close examination. They remove old docks, cars, construction equipment and all manner of garbage.
He said whether the dead boats are an environmental hazard has been a subject of debate. Government has generally considered boats leaking oil as hazardous, and those not leaking not prioritized. But he said there’s research that shows these boats break down faster than anyone expected, and they have environmental impacts.
“These glass-reinforced plastics don’t go anywhere – they just get small and smaller, and end up back in our food chain,” said Roe.
There has been a lot of concern about reusable plastics that end up in the sea. He said one 25-foot fibreglass boat is the equivalent of about half a million plastic straws by weight.
Roe has found most government levels want to pass the buck. It is generally impossible to bill a boat’s owner.
“Nobody knows who owns them, so there’s no responsibility,” he said. “It’s almost impossible to find out who owns them.”
His group, in addition to removing dead boats, will also shake the trees of government to get the necessary resources.
He was aware of the site in Pitt Meadows, and of others.
“The Fraser and Pitt Rivers – I could probably work there for a year.”
He’ll be bringing a “can do” attitude to Pitt Meadows on Friday.
“We help the community raise the funds, and we get it done,” said Roe. “We’re going to do it, but it’s not going to happen overnight.”
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