My city, my garbage can.
Unbridled littering is not unique to us – all big cities where lots of people live share this pain – but jeepers, Surrey’s got a big problem with illegal dumping.
Ever since people have had opposable thumbs to grip things with, and started chucking stuff to the cave floor, we’ve been making a mess of our environs.
Though millennia have passed since the Trash Troglodyte first hit the scene, this ignoble creature is still messing up the area we know today as the City of Parks.
This series of stories looks at his antediluvian behaviour and the efforts of advanced people to bring his garbage-spreading ways to a tidy end.
Candice Bommarito lives near 76th Avenue and 144A Street in East Newton. She says the garbage dumping problem in her neighbourhood is “surreal.”
She takes the Now-Leader for a tour. Now, this reporter has seen some horrendous messes in his day. Gobs of dirty needles in untidy piles beneath the SkyTrain line in Whalley. Stacks of broken furniture and soiled mattresses in neighbouring lots. Burned skeletons of stolen vehicles impaled on tree stumps at the bottom of deep ravines.
Heck, even radioactive waste. That’s right. Back in the 1990s, Reform MP Gurmant Grewal fought hard to get roughly 400 tonnes of low-level radioactive niobium slag shipped away from here to Chalk River, Ontario, and Arlington, Washington State. Some of the smelter slag and contaminated soil had been off Anvil Way in Newton, and some in barrels rusting in CN Rail’s Thornton Yard.
So there’s that. Still, Bommarito’s ravine tour is deeply concerning.
“I realize many parks in Surrey are dumping grounds, and that’s why I’m saying something now,” she says, “because I’m sick of it.”
Bommarito moved here from Ontario in 1998.
“This was forest, this was beautiful here. I mean, it was untouched. And now to see it,” she laments. “I know it’s important to have a population for the economy and all that, but it gets to the point where we’ve grown so big that we’re not taking care of the community any more. I know Surrey had a good idea to populate this area, bring people in here, grow the economy, but now we’ve grown so big that the city can’t handle what’s happening with all the garbage that’s being collected in the areas. All the bylaws, no bylaws are being followed anymore in this area. It seems like a deadzone.
“It’s been about three years, and it’s just got progressively worse,” she says. Evidence of our disposable society abounds. Buy it, and chuck it. ‘I’m done with this cup, I’m done with this shopping cart, I’m done with this couch.’ It doesn’t matter what it is.”
There is a “No Dumping” sign a few paces from a trail leading into the forest. “At the entrance here there’s a lot of garbage that’s been there a couple of months but if you go inside,” she says, “it’s just incredible.
|“I realize many parks in Surrey are dumping grounds, and that’s why I’m saying something now,” Candice Bommarito says, “because I’m sick of it.” (Photo: Tom Zytaruk).|
“There’s about two tonnes of saris down there. I don’t know how they got it down there, they would have had to use a wheelbarrow.”
Beneath the sign, gathered like fallen leaves around the base of a tree, in this case a steel pole, are tires, bottles, knee-high boots, children’s sandals, a suitcase and handfuls of plastic six-pack rings.
A few steps into the forests, there are empty glass spice bottles. One for chives, another for bay leaves. I’m not turning the others over to read them. They’re dirty. We head down a trail to a creek bed. There’s a toilet, a shopping cart, a pedestal sink, diapers.
“There’s all sorts of (crap),” Bommarito groans. “A lot of the stuff that’s down there is stuff that’s household garbage that you can tell has been pulled down there from the residents,” she says. “Value Village could make three grand off of the crap that’s in this forest, the prices that they charge for used stuff. All of this waste is just getting thrown in the forest – clothing, shoes, hardhats, boots. Things people could use are being thrown in the forest. It’s such a waste.”
Fed up, Bommarito posted a bunch of pictures on Facebook and tagged the City of Surrey.
“They replied to me to download this app from the iTunes store (Surrey Request App), and you go on there and make a report. So I did that, and their reply to me was an email saying I should clean it up myself.
“I’ve complained about it a few times and their reply to me was a link to a webpage to recruit volunteers to clean it up myself,” she explains.
“I expressed to them that it’s large items that I can’t physically pull out of there myself. If they have the resources to build a website to tell me to clean it up myself, you know, why don’t you have the resources – the taxpayers are paying – to clean up areas like this, and it’s not being used.”
We continue down the trail, and cross a little wooden bridge. There are two busted television sets nearby.
“See, there’s an office chair down there,” she points out. “I don’t know that anbody out there gives a s—t about this watershed parkway.”
“I take the dog for a walk. They suggested that I take a bag with me and pick up litter as I go, which is no problem; I bring a bag, I pick up garbage as I go, but it’s just getting beyond the scope of what I can do, like, I don’t have a shovel and a dumpster.
“I’m willing to help out,” she says. “I’m willing to bring a bag with me on a walk with my dog and pick up the cigarette packs and the lighters and the cups and whatever, anything I can touch, but when it comes down to appliances, furniture and hazardous materials, I’m not touching that, you know. What if I get hurt, and then the city is liable? Why would they put me in that position? Do they want to become sued? I don’t understand. They put the resources in to build a web page to tell me to do it myself, when they could have taken those resources and used them to clean out this park.”
At the side of the trail there’s a shopping cart filled with rags.
“Oh, somebody’s tried to pick it up,” Bommarito grins. “People are trying, right? Like that was just a mountain yesterday.
“It’s like people don’t know what to do with their stuff and so they’re getting rid of it in the forested areas. Surrey does offer four free pickups a year, so people really need to take responsibility for what they’re getting rid of.”
Indeed, the City of Surrey offers a Large Item Pickup Program where a crew can be called, at 604-590-7289 (Option 3) to pick up up four large items per residence during any calendar year.
Jas Rehal, manager of Surrey’s bylaw department, said the city spends about $800,000 each year in the fight against illegal dumping.
“The amount of resources, dollars spent in actually cleaning this up is very, very significant,” Rehal said. “It is a priority. It’s definitely an issue in Metro Vancouver. I know for a fact Langley, Delta.”
|Jas Rehal, bylaws manager for Surrey.|
The Now-Leader spoke with Rehal after touring the East Newton forest with Bommarito and discussed the city’s response to her complaints.
“I don’t know which department would have said that,” Rehal said. “I would expect my officers to go out and assess the situation. It’s obviously city property. One of the departments would pick it up.”
“Illegal dumping is a big problem in this city. It’s really a regional issue. Definitely it’s a problem. Illegal dumping is definitely a hot-button issue for us,” Rehal said. “There is a lot of cases where the city has spent a lot of money cleaning up illegal dumping.”
Illegal dumping carries a fine of $500 in Surrey.
“We’ll also take it a step further with repeat offenders, we’ll take it to court. The fine amount, to start, is $500.”
“The bylaw officers are going around trying to find people, to fine them the $500. It’s hard to find them. Somebody gets caught, and they move around.”
Up next in Part 2:
We focus on efforts to try to keep the City of Parks clean.