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EDITORIAL: Breaking the rules

The City of St. John’s has been dumping snow into St. John’s harbour for years, despite it being in violation of federal rules regarding pollution prevention in fish-bearing waters.
The City of St. John’s has been dumping snow into St. John’s harbour for years, despite it being in violation of federal rules regarding pollution prevention in fish-bearing waters. — Telegram file photo

“Do as I say, not as I do”: St. John’s city council, January 2019.

It’s a funny thing about laws; they’re supposed to apply the same way to everyone. It’s not supposed to matter how big or little the lawbreaker is, or whether they are rich, poor, powerful or powerless. The law is the law.

Well, the City of St. John’s is breaking the law, and has been for years. Not only are they breaking the law, but they admit it right up front.

The city is violating federal law by dumping snow from the downtown into the harbour. The federal Fisheries Act doesn’t allow the dumping, which not only includes snow, but every other substance that comes with it, from litter to waste oils.

The city’s argument? They can’t afford not to.

“If we weren’t dumping snow that’s removed from the downtown into the harbour, then that has to be trucked somewhere that’s quite far away. So, there’s the cost of doing that,” Coun. Ian Froude told The Telegram. “Then, the cost of burning fuel to move that volume of snow to an area that’s potentially quite far away.”

Then there’s the problem of where to put the snow — a problem that other cities have, and have dealt with.

“It would have to be an engineered site with proper drainage because it would be a significant amount of snow,” Froude said. “We can’t just dump it anywhere.”

Secret memo to Coun. Froude? Apparently, you can. You are currently dumping it “just anywhere.”

Then there’s the problem of where to put the snow — a problem that other cities have, and have dealt with.

It may be that no one in the city wants to pay more taxes to cover the proper disposal of snow.

But that’s not really an excuse.

We look forward to the city dealing equally leniently with the following situations.

A homeowner wants to build a sunroom but can’t afford the process of getting a permit for the project, having building plans reviewed, and having a full electrical inspection. Instead, the homeowner builds the extension without plans, permit or inspection. When the city finds out, the homeowner pleads poverty. Instead of having the structure torn down at the homeowner’s expense, the city’s position is, “yeah, times are tough all over.”

A developer, strapped for cash in a real estate downturn, can’t afford to connect a subdivision to a somewhat-distant city sewer line. So, the developer digs a trench and buries a pipeline that diverts the sewage to a nearby brook instead. “Doing anything else would be prohibitively expensive,” the developer says. “Carry on,” says the city.

Oh, and one last example. In the last few weeks, your household may have received a notice of tax payable to the city. But times are tight, and your budget’s overextended.

That’s OK — hasn’t the city said that “I can’t afford this” is the perfect excuse?

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