We’re not treating our wild areas with respect

Scenic spots along dikes and rivers used dumping sludge

In the 1970s, a TV video called Keep America Beautiful proved littering was erasing the natural beauty of the U.S.

As Iron Eyes Cody canoes down a river strewn with garbage, a tear runs down the Indian’s cheek.

Actor William Conrad (Cannon, a detective series) then laments, “Some people have an abiding respect for the natural beauty that once was this country; others don’t. People start pollution; people can end it.”

This scene fueled recycling programs across North America, and tweaked the conscience of many who’d thrown waste out car windows without a second thought.

But, those who don’t care still dump, even in Pitt Meadows, where the Fraser River and majestic mountains meet.

It is also where True North Fraser signage –  a city driven initiative – promotes local agriculture, tourism, and Pitt Meadows’ commitment to environmental health and sustainability.

The scene is less rosy under our dikes and out of view. Take, for example, the one running eastward along the south side of the North Alouette River off Neaves Road. Here, household and industrial garbage floats on the surface of muddy holes that resemble quicksand.

These ‘cells’ – 15 feet deep and wide – were built by the city’s public works department to house sludge scooped from irrigation ditches.

It’s an alternative to trucking it to official disposal sites, which would cost hundreds of thousands of dollars annually.

Taxes are a bone of contention here.

But, the dirt and grass also contain garbage, everything you can imagine, and lots of it.

Recently, I showed Mayor Deb Walters and council some pictures. One pit held a huge plastic drum with a Vancouver address on it, soap containers, whiskey bottles, soccer balls, scraps of metal, and even an old television. It all floated to the surface after our last heavy rainfall.

There would be more that didn’t. How much of this material was toxic? Should this junk be deposited metres away from a salmon bearing stream?

At the June 25 council of the whole committee meeting, the reaction was surprise and dismay.

“This kind of garbage isn’t acceptable,” said Walters.

She’s since asked for a report from staff about the dumping practice.

Coun. Bruce Bell told me on the phone earlier that he’d been unaware public works doesn’t faithfully pluck garbage from sludge it dumps at the Barnes or Neaves road dikes. Bell guessed the lax dumping practice had gone on unknown by anyone on council.

“Nothing has been written down,” public works supervisor Randy Evans said. “It’s just the way it’s been done. It’s the practice.”

What’s missing is clear policy regarding the garbage.  Council should get something on paper now. Staff needs direction, and the public expects environmental slogans to be honest.

As Walters remarked, garbage in the dikes, even if it’s invisible, “is unacceptable.”

“We haven’t been doing a very good job of picking that stuff out,” Evans admitted.

“I’ve told my crews getting the garbage out is a priority now. We can do better,” he assured me.

A week’s gone by. The minutes of last Tuesday’s council meeting are public.

Public works will now retrieve foreign debris, including television sets, and soccer balls.

Public safety is the other issue.

“Two joggers went by in the 10-minute period I was there,” Bell told council.

“We should have it [the pits] fenced and improve the signage. Without that, it would be dangerous for children or pets.”

Bell gave another reason to clean up the site. “I noted a park bench with a dedication on it. “I can’t imagine someone wanting to pay for one in a place with garbage under it.”

At last week’s council meeting, Chief Administrative Officer Jake Rudolf said of the city’s sludge disposal site, “This area is a municipal fill site.”

Yes, but, it’s also a place of unbelievable natural beauty.

There will always be those who don’t care enough to keep their waste out of ditches. That’s a problem for the city.

Burying their mess in our dikes isn’t the answer.

– Jack Emberly is a retired teacher, local author and environmentalist.