Trash piles of appliances and cars prompt St. John's, N.L., to hire private eyes

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CONCEPTION BAY SOUTH, N.L. - Newfoundland's vast beauty, soaring seaside cliffs and famed hiking trails have been showcased in award-winning ads that draw scores of tourists from around the world.

So it's especially jarring that some Newfoundlanders are trashing their woodlands to the extent that city councillors in St. John's are hiring a private security firm to catch polluters.

A 15-minute drive southwest of St. John's, Conception Bay South resident Carla Crotty takes a nature walk near Paddy's Pond that's littered with dumped furniture, heaps of household trash, propane tanks, abandoned barbecues, an air hockey table and a broken toilet. Three buckets tossed by the side of a tree-lined gravel road include one labelled acetone, the highly flammable active ingredient in paint thinner.

There's a stack of roof shingles nearby and wads of insulation tossed into a clearing of trees down the road.

And this is just one of several known sites around the province where illegal trash keeps showing up, as it has for years.

"I don't understand why people feel that it's okay to drop your garbage off up here when you wouldn't drop it in your neighbour's backyard," Crotty said. "You wouldn't drop it on a busy city street. Bringing it up to a somewhat private wooded area, you're not really hiding it.

"You're still harming the environment, and I just really wish people would take some time and think twice before dumping their garbage into somebody else's backyard in the future."

"No Dumping" signs have apparently had little effect.

St. John's city Coun. Tom Hann says the city is looking at installing hidden cameras, and on Friday it announced it's advertising for a private security firm to offer at least 40 hours of surveillance each week.

"We can have two or three people rotating around these known areas," Hann said in an interview. "If they catch these people, then we will certainly take them to court and the maximum fine is $5,000. If I had anything to do with it, it would be double."

Hann said while illegal dumping is a problem in other provinces too, it's especially frustrating since the city spent millions of dollars upgrading the regional Robin Hood Bay Waste Management Facility in St. John's. There's no charge for typical residential garbage, and hazardous materials can be dropped off on Saturdays from June to November.

Commercial haulers need a $25 yearly permit and can dump for $65.50 per tonne for most waste.

"Tipping fees could be an issue," Hann said. But he is baffled by the extent to which trash piles up where it shouldn't.

"We can't understand why people would go out into the woods or on public property and unload garbage — from bathtubs to bags of garbage to tiles from renovations to, in some cases, abandoned cars.

"We can't understand why people would do that, especially here in Newfoundland where we have such a wonderful outdoor, pristine environment. And here we are, having people mar the look of that."

In central Newfoundland, there have been complaints of illegal dumping since scattered landfills were closed in favour of a regional site at Norris Arm, N.L., about 25 kilometres east of Grand Falls-Windsor. The change forces some residents and commercial haulers to drive longer distances.

"Somewhere along the line you have to pay the piper if you want service," Grand Falls-Windsor Mayor Al Hawkins said of rural residents who don't pay taxes for garbage collection.

He said it's "disappointing and discouraging" that some people use surrounding forests as dumpsters.

"I thought we were to the point where we're educated on protecting our environment."

The issue is not unique to Newfoundland.

Halifax Regional Municipality Coun. Tim Outhit was recently shocked to see the impact of illegal dumping in his community of Bedford. Piles of trash along a railway line and pond were blamed for blocking drainage pipes and flooding nearby homes last month.

"Everything I saw there — appliances, lawn mowers, construction waste — can be bundled up and thrown out with your weekly garbage," Outhit said.

He said the solution is more education and enforcement.

For Crotty, action can't come soon enough.

"As Newfoundlanders, we take a lot of pride in our province. And to see this sort of neglect going on, it's shocking to people — not just people from away but people from here as well."

Geographic location: St. John's, Newfoundland, Norris Arm Grand Falls-Windsor Bedford

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