Garbage lands too close to home

‘Green zone’ near Torbay cemetery anything but green, family says

Published on July 22, 2014
Garbage bags sit next to Holy Trinity cemetery in Torbay. At least one family says the refuse thrown in the town’s “green zone,” which borders the cemetery, is disrespectful.
— Photo by Tara Bradbury/The Telegram

Even during late afternoon traffic, things are quiet on Holy Trinity Lane in Torbay. Hidden from the main road behind homes and the town hall, the local cemetery is well-groomed and still. Its only watchman in the evening sun is a lone crow, perched upon a green garbage bag which has been torn open, yellowed grass clippings and bits of a broken plastic flower vase spilling out.

The crow sits next to the cemetery, just outside the fence. A couple of hundred feet away, in the gravel space known as the town’s “green zone,” is a pile of refuse, looking like it was thrown out of a truck and left however it landed: a worn-out sofa, a broken wooden shelving unit, a child’s pink plastic vanity. Above that, there’s a sign from the town council, asking residents not to leave anything there but compostables and organic recyclables.

“What’s been described by the town as a green zone is nothing more than window-dressing for an open-air dump,” says Mike Heffernan of St. John’s.

Heffernan’s mother’s family is one of the oldest in Torbay, having settled in the community more than 150 years ago. Many of Heffernan’s relatives are buried in Holy Trinity cemetery, including his grandfather, who was the cemetery’s longtime caretaker.

Members of Heffernan’s surviving family are not happy with what they are calling a lack of respect being shown for the graves.

“Bulldozing a field adjacent to a residential area and covering it with gravel does not constitute a green zone,” Heffernan, who spent his childhood in Torbay, said. “Isn’t it the town’s responsibility to provide adequate security, infrastructure and regular cleanup?”

In 2008, some Torbay residents lobbied the town council to reverse a decision to locate a depot for heavy equipment near the same site; a decision that had passed by one vote. The central location of the site and easy access to the town’s roads were mentioned as factors in choosing the depot location. A petition with around 2,600 names was submitted to the council by an area resident that year.

Today, the depot lies between the green zone and the town hall. The green zone hosts a container for metal garbage, currently filled to the brim, and two locked bins for charitable donations of clothing and household items. The sign stating what organic garbage is and is not allowed notes video surveillance is in use in the area, but is being ignored.

“We do have a problem with people leaving garbage in that area,” says Mayor Ralph Tapper. “We don’t want to see that. We had a couple of blue boxes there to collect recyclables for a fundraiser, and we had to take them out of it, because people would leave everything there.

“It’s unfortunate. They don’t take it to Robin Hood Bay, they just leave it where it’s convenient for them. The only thing we can do is if people leave this type of garbage, we’ll take it and put it in the regular garbage (pickup) for the dump.”

Part of the problem, Tapper says, lies in the town’s inability to issue fines or tickets for illegal dumpers.

“Torbay is considered a small community,” he says. “Only a few communities — the three cities, St. John’s, Mount Pearl and Corner Brook— have the ability to issue tickets or take people to court. We don’t have that ability.”

Tapper, whose family members are also buried in the cemetery, says town officials visited the green zone site on Saturday, after The Telegram first inquired about the garbage. A pile of garbage close to the cemetery — the crow’s lookout — was determined to be bags of lawn clippings, broken flower pots and wind-tattered silk flowers, picked up by the landscapers hired by the parish to take care of the graveyard, he says, and therefore the parish’s responsibility.

Twitter: @tara_bradbury