Just last week we had an incident in a gravel pit on the Witless Bay Line in which an exploding barbecue injured one person, destroyed three campers and almost started a forest fire.
Even the camper who was interviewed expressed concern that the resulting fire would spread down into the community of Bay Bulls.
Fortunately, the quick work of the Witless Bay Fire Department averted what could have been a very serious incident — especially considering the dry conditions, overcrowded area and the lone point of access/egress. Kudos to the firefighters.
With this incident in mind, I have to wonder whatever became of the provincial government’s efforts from a couple of years ago to end what’s known as gravel pit camping? At that time, citing safety and environmental concerns, the government started evicting these campers from the various sites around the province and closing off the entrances to these areas.
Now it seems that the government’s position is that of “come back, all is forgiven.”
The problems and dangers concerning these sites are obvious to everyone and aptly demonstrated in last week’s incident.
In a provincial park or an RV park, there are strict rules in place to ensure the safety of all the users. Parks are required to have at least one emergency exit in case the main exit is obstructed; campsites are spaced far enough apart to avoid a fire at one campsite spreading to another; campgrounds are required to have a certain amount of emergency fire equipment like back tanks, pumps, hoses, etc. for every number of campsites, and accessible to the staff and campers; as well as other regulations to ensure the safety of the park’s users.
As well, forestry officers make ongoing inspections to ensure that all these requirements are met. In a gravel pit, there are no safety rules, no safety equipment and no inspections.
There are also the environmental factors to be considered. In a provincial park, the campsites will have either a hookup to a sewage system or an RV sewage dumping facility. Garbage is collected and the campgrounds are well maintained and cared for.
In the gravel pits, there are none of these amenities. The pits general look like dump sites, especially after the camping season is over; some campers are left in place all year around, contrary to Crown Lands regulations, and giving the impression of being scrapyards for condemned school buses; and finally, and most importantly, where is all that untreated sewage going? I doubt very much if the campers are “holding it” for an entire weekend, which indicates that sewage is either being dumped into or onto the ground, and in large quantities; which should be raising considerable health concerns.
In pretty much every other situation, if someone was dumping untreated sewage into the ground they would be overwhelmed with the charges laid against them but in these gravel pits no action is taken.
I have travelled extensively in other provinces and in the U.S., and nowhere else that I’m aware of is this sort of thing present or permitted.
So, why is it permitted here?
How much longer is the provincial government going to allow these roadside ghettos to continue? Why did the government make such an effort a couple of years ago to stop this, and then appear to give up on it? The government advertises this province as being clean and beautiful, but one look at these gravel pit campgrounds certainly contradicts this.
If there are regulations in place to stop this then they need to be strenuously enforced. The time is long overdue for the government to do something about these blights on the landscape once and for all.