When Tantramar council started discussing its new Dangerous and Unsightly Premises by-law, which it passed in May, Kerry Simpson was paying attention.
Simpson has long been bothered by a number of sites in the new municipality where she hikes and walks with her daughter's dog — sites that feature loads of garbage or discarded items. Often these sites are on private land, and Simpson wonders how, if ever, they will get cleaned up.
CHMA took a walk with Simpson just off the Cape Road outside of Dorchester, to see one such dump site, where thousands of tires have been strewn throughout the woods and overgrown with brush.
The piles poke up through the shrubs and undergrowth sporadically, and stretch far down the old road, alongside a spring creek. “When you start counting them one by one,” says Simpson, “there’s thousands. There’s got to be.”
The tires were likely dumped here a few at a time, but now there’s an overwhelming number, and it’s hard to imagine anyone taking on the job of removing them all. But even so, Simpson thinks it needs to happen.
“I just worry that one day you’re going to have a lightning storm, you’re going to have just a piece of glass that hits the sun the wrong way… And there it goes,” says Simpson. “It’s gone.”
Tires take a considerable amount of heat to start burning, but when they do, they are notoriously hard to extinguish. A fire at a tire recycling plant in Minto in 2019 lasted for days, despite efforts of firefighting crews. But it’s not just fire risk that concerns Simpson. She’s also worried about what the slowly degrading tires might be releasing into the ground and water surrounding them.
When dump sites like this one are left to fester, it’s bad news for the environment, says Sam Rogers, habitat restoration and monitoring worker with Fort Folly Habitat Recovery.
Rogers has been helping organize dump site cleanups with funding from the province’s Environmental Trust Fund, removing 15 tons of garbage from roughly 15 different sites in the past two years alone. And they will be back at it again this year. Rogers says things like tires can cause problems for nearby waterways and wildlife.
“While it takes a long time for these to break down, they do,” says Rogers. “And they release the chemicals that they’re comprised of into the soil and into the water. They just create a concoction of problems.”
Rogers says other items routinely dumped can pose equal or greater challenges. “A lot of the time we find appliances, and we’ve seen leakages,” says Rogers. “We’ve come across what looks like oil changes or other things, and people just leave the bottles out to release chemicals wherever they are into the environment.”
Some of the sites that Rogers and the Fort Folly team help clean up are historical dumps, like the tire graveyard Simpson found. But some are also still active, with people, for some reason, choosing to dispose of their detritus in the woods.
“I hate to say it,” says Rogers, but it “may be laziness. It’s a lot household garbage, sometimes even bagged, that’s just left in the ditches, and they’ve been torn into by wildlife.” She’s also seen children’s toys, constructions debris including boards with nails and shingles, and at one point, what appeared to be the contents of a university dorm room.
Rogers says she’s not sure whether the 15 sites that she and Fort Folly Habitat Recovery have cleaned up are the tip of the iceberg or not. “It’s hard to say if you make a dent,” says Rogers. “I know we clean up a lot, and we get tons of waste that comes out of those areas. But then you return next year, and there’s more.”
“It’s such a large problem,” says Rogers. “And there’s so many ways around it that it remains an issue within communities that is difficult to address if you don’t have the resources.”
New app coming to report dump sites
One new project funded this year by the Environmental Trust Fund could help paint a picture of just how big the problem is. ECO 360 (the Southeast Regional Service Commission department responsible for disposing of all the waste collected in the southeast) has received a $30,000 grant to put towards helping communities identify and clean up illegal dump sites.
Director Sebastian Hultberg says the first phase of the project is to expand ECO 360’s app current smartphone app, to allow for people like Kerry Simpson to report dump sites. The idea is that ”you’ll be able to snap a photo, get the coordinates,” and the information will be uploaded to ECO 360’s database, says Hultberg. “And once we have the data, where are the dumps that exist, then we can look at how how we can help,” says Hultberg.
ECO 360 already has one service in place to help communities tackle dump sites, the ECO 360 cleanup trailer. “It’s a trailer that community groups can can sort of lease for free,” says Hultberg. “There’s all the tools and protective equipment that you would need, and supplies to help clean up one of these sites.”
“We will be working with the Department of Environment and Local Government on this to help share the data that we get with them so that they get a better better picture of what what it looks like as well,” he says.
Public land, private land
Most of the dump sites identified and cleaned up by Fort Folly Habitat Recovery are on public land. Dumping grounds on private land add an extra layer of difficulty, in that there’s the permission of the property owner to consider, and also their potential responsibility in the matter.
Kerry Simpson thinks the new town of Tantramar can play a role in helping facilitate the cleanup of new and historic dump sites across the new municipality, even if they are on private land. Her plea to councillors at their May meeting, just before they approved the town’s new Dangerous and Unsightly Premises bylaw, was, to paraphrase, “use it.”
“We write these bylaws for the people who are going to follow them,” says Simpson, “and we hope that the other 5% fall in line. I think we need to start looking after the 5% instead of relying on the 95% that follow them, and start writing these bylaws for everybody.”
Currently Tantramar has just one permanent full time bylaw officer, the same number that Sackville had before amalgamation. But with a hugely expanded territory, enforcement of the Dangerous and Unsightly bylaw could be more of a challenge than it already is.
Ultimately, Simpson thinks that enforcement needs to be accompanied by possible supports for facilitating clean ups. “We have to do our research,” says Simpson, “and we could look at it on a case by case basis. So if there is mental illness behind it, then of course that needs more of a community effort than enforcement. And if it’s just someone blatantly refusing to pick it up, then that to me is an enforcement [issue.] Force them to pick it up or suffer the fines.”
“I appreciate the fact that it probably started years ago, when we weren’t so concerned about the environment,” says Simpson. “But now we have more education on the environment and we should be doing everything we can to clean it up, and ensure that our trees and our land and our animals are going to be here 20 years from now.”
“I’d hate to see huge devastation from something that we know is here, and we can do something about. At this point, it becomes our responsibility,” says Simpson.
Currently the province asks people to report dump sites to the Environment and Local Government regional offices. For Tantramar, that’s the Region 3 office located in Moncton, at (506) 856-2374 and firstname.lastname@example.org.