St. John’s resident gets water runaround

Speaks with three levels of government before sediment in stream addressed

Published on December 3, 2013
Silt fences located at the top of Griffin’s Lane in Kilbride used to keep sediment from getting into a stream that feeds into Waterford River. — Photo by Rhonda Hayward/The Telegram

It took conversations with three levels of government for a St. John’s resident to get something done about a large amount of sediment that was finding its way into a stream that feeds into the Waterford River.

Diana Baird wishes it didn’t have to take so long to do so and that a more co-ordinated response by government agencies had occurred.

“I thought it was appalling that it should take that many hoops that a person would have to go through to try to make a sensible report and get a response,” she said.

It was on a Thursday that Baird noticed sediment flowing into a stream off Griffin’s Lane.

“There were a couple of silt fences there, but they were both collapsed,” said Baird. “They hadn’t been properly maintained.”

In years past, Baird would report spills to the Canadian Coast Guard radio communications. She found that process was straightforward and that people would followup with you in a timely fashion if there were any additional questions.

“There were people within Environment Canada in particular that I had come to know quite well,” said Baird, a board member with the environmental action group Northeast Avalon ACAP.

“We could always count on them to give the more solid scrutiny. That’s no longer there.”

According to Baird, contact information taken through the environmental emergency line failed to include her full phone number, thus the province’s Water Resource Management Division was unable to immediately get in touch with Baird.

Baird was eventually put in touch with that division of the Department of Environment and Conversation, but was told on Friday, Nov. 22, that the person who had looked at her file was not working that day.

Apparently, that was one of two people within the division tasked with handling such issues for the entire province.

“Having only two people at any given time in the entire province of Newfoundland that are committed to responding to environmental issues (with water) is not nearly enough,” said Baird.

The staff person Baird spoke with recommended she contact the city.

“Up until that point, I hadn’t been aware that the city was an agency that went out and did investigations of environmental offences, and when I did call the city, the comment from the woman at the 311 number when I explained why I was calling them, she said they’re doing this more and more all the time. It’s a passing of the buck down the line.”

Baird did get a message through to the right person in the engineering department and learned the sediment was coming from a City of St. John’s capital works project that had been contracted out. Consulting engineers kept Baird updated during the weekend as several new silt fences were installed along with straw bales and crushed stone to help filter the water.

“I was impressed to see how quickly it had improved once they had gotten on to it.”

According to a spokeswoman for the Department of Environment and Conservation, complaints to the Water Resource Management Division are reviewed internally before any followup action is taken.  The spokeswoman said staff did visit and assess the site the next day and take photos.

“Our record shows that no permits were issued for this work by the Water Resources Management Division and the work was related to a stormwater system by the City of St. John’s for which no permit is required from the Water Resources Management Division.”

Division staff have since contacted the city to ensure “proper silt control measures are in place.”

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