Pile of garbage that includes tires, bucket, household waste (Cole Schisler photo)

75kg of trash found up Ladysmith’s Bannon Creek Forest Reserve

Cowichan Valley Cleanup Effort has organized a cleanup to deal with the remaining waste

After hearing about rampant illegal dumping at the Bannon Creek Forest Reserve just south of Ladysmith, Peter Williams decided to get in his truck and do something about it. Williams removed 75kg of junk and yard waste from the area, and more was left to be cleaned up.

“There was a post on one of the Ladysmith sites about it,” Williams said. “I was heading to Ladysmith to do some gravel for a guy. I didn’t know exactly where it [the garbage] was, so I drove around and finally found it, and picked it all up.”

It took Williams an hour and a half to pick up the garbage. He thinks people are using the area as a dump to avoid tipping fees.

“Go to the dump. It doesn’t cost that much… It’d maybe only cost about 10 or 15 bucks to dispose of that load. You drove right past the entrance of the dump, it’s right there,” Williams said.

Subsequent investigation by the Chronicle revealed several piles of assorted garbage, yard waste, scrap metal, and even a boat dumped at the Bannon Creek Forest Reserve — all within a 100-foot radius of the Saltair water treatment facility.

Illegal dumping is a problem that plagues many communities on Vancouver Island.

The issue is multi-faceted. Jurisdictional overlap between municipal, provincial, and federal governments leads to confusion over which group is responsible for cleaning up garbage. Some of the land is also owned by private individuals or companies.

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In the case of the Bannon Creek Forest Reserve, it sits between North Cowichan and the Town of Ladysmith.

There is a gate at the entrance of the reserve, and signs that say the area is monitored by the CVRD, however the CVRD said that the signs are outdated, and display a phone number that is no longer in service. They believe the area is outside their jurisdiction. It is not clear at this time who is responsible for the Bannon Creek Forest Reserve.

Confusion over responsibility and jurisdictional authority has led to private citizens taking action on their own. Williams is part of a group called the Cowichan Valley Clean Up Effort. Williams is an administrator for the group, alongside Lehanna Green. The group has already organized a clean up of the Cowichan River, and Church Road in Duncan.

Green believes part of the problem is private contractors are being paid to remove waste, but instead of taking it to the dump, they dump it in the forest and keep the tipping fee.

“I wonder how many people are being paid to haul stuff away, and then they’re taking the money for the hauling job, and they’re just dumping it up in the bushes,” Green said. “When we were cleaning the river…and it was just the easiest place for people to dump old couches, mattresses, and bags of household garbage that people had brought down, and just casually knocked off the back of their truck.”

Green has taken the lead in organizing cleanup efforts and communicating with local governments. As a coordinator, Green often has to communicate with four different municipalities to figure out who has jurisdiction in what area. Another issue that comes up during the cleanup efforts is securing free tipping at local dumps.

“In order for you to get tipping fees waived you have to connect yourself with a non-profit society,” Green said. “Cowichan Green Community actually sponsors us to go do this. I get people when they come down to fill out a volunteer form.”

According to Green, the process becomes burdened by bureaucracy, which makes it difficult to get cleanups completed in a timely fashion. Despite the challenges in securing permission to clean areas and free tipping, Green says that people in the community have been generous with their time in helping to clean the areas.

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“Not everybody wants to come down and help us, but people found out we couldn’t get tipping, and we’d have to go through a process to get it. People were like, ‘I’ll donate one-hundred-bucks, here take it,’” Green said.

Along with community members supporting the group, businesses like Mosiac forests have donated $500 to the group. Ocean Ecoventures, run by Simon Pidcock, closed shop for the day and had staff help in the cleanup effort.

“These are the superstars in our community, they’re not waiting around for the government to deal with stuff, they’re actually going out and doing it themselves,” Green said.

Governments often deal with illegal dumping by sending bylaw enforcement officers to the area in hopes of finding identifying information among the disposed items. They then contact individuals and attempt to remediate costs. They also place gates at the entrance of forestry roads. This has led to many areas of Vancouver Island being locked down, and has left hunters and fishers locked out of hunting grounds.

Dave Judson of the Ladysmith Sportsmen’s Club is familiar not only with the garbage in hunting grounds, but he has also been involved in cleanups on private lands as well.

“It’s sad because everybody talks about private lands being locked, and they don’t like it, right? I work for the timber companies for BRI Security. Ladysmith side is clean because it’s active and it’s locked,” Judson said. “We’ve done seven cleanups and cleaned up 83 tonnes of garbage in seven years. According to my records, on average, 10 tonnes a year finds its way back to local areas.”

Judson explained that this is not an isolated issue. Doumont road in Nanaimo suffers from similar problems, as does Lake Cowichan, Duncan, Little Mountain in Coombs, and northern Vancouver Island. Judson says the problems at Bannon Creek Forest Reserve are exacerbated by easy access to the area.

“The trouble being open is it’s the only place open within the general area of Ladysmith. Say on New Year’s if you want to have a bonfire and go trap shooting, it’s heavy, it’s full of people because there’s limited places to go,” Judson said.

“We pick up an average of three to five tonnes a year up Peerless road. I have picked up fibreglass 16 foot boats, fifth wheels, you name it. Yesterday I found a camper on a trailer just dumped up Nanaimo Lakes.”

Judson is concerned that some people may have intentions of going to the dump, but that the dump may be closed when they get there, so people take it into the bush instead. He also echoed concerns that private contractors were dumping loads in forest areas. Judson believes part of the solution would be expanding dump hours and reducing the cost of tipping fees.

“A lot of the stuff I found up the mountain is recyclable for free,” Judson said. “We pay billions of dollars collectively on behalf of the environment in environmental fees. Those fees are collected on behalf of the environment, use them to save the environment. Offset dump fees, or expand dump hours.”

This is something that Green and Cowichan Valley Cleanup agree with. Green suggested that dumps could even have at least one day a year where they completely waive tipping fees.

In response to the garbage found by the Chronicle, Cowichan Valley Cleanup Effort organized a cleanup of Bannon Creek Forest Reserve to deal with the remaining waste. The cleanup will be held on the weekend of July 27 and 28, from 8 a.m. to 4 p.m. both days. Volunteers are needed to help clear the garbage. Green has secured free tipping for volunteers. Williams has supplied his gravel truck and secured a large dump truck for the effort as well. People interested in the cleanup effort can contact the Cowichan Valley Cleanup Effort on Facebook, or search for Bannon Creek Road Clean Up.

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Assorted trash left behind from a bonfire including alcohol containers and shotgun shells. (Cole Schisler photo)

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