EASTERN SHORE – Gail Osmond-Jewers does not suffer fools gladly, and when it comes to the welfare of the Eastern Shore community she calls home, she does not mince words.
“It makes me very angry,” says the Moser River woman. “I want the mess cleaned up.”
The ‘mess’ is vast heaps of garbage in wooded areas off the beaten paths of her otherwise pristine rural enclave.
“There’s everything from soiled diapers to baby items,” she says. “There are old computers. I’ve even seen broken laptops, fridges, deep freezes and shovels. You name it, it’s piled everywhere.”
Worse, she says, while “this has been happening for years, and I’ve been taking pictures of it for years, the piles are getting bigger. I want something done.”
She’s not alone. Since she posted pictures of one illegal dump on the Moser River Facebook page last week, she’s received dozens of comments from similarly enraged area residents. One is Gail Martin of nearby Necum Teuch.
“There’s no excuse for it,” she says. “There really isn’t. Maybe it’s ignorance. I mean, years ago, that’s what people did. Way in the back of the fields, you’d find these trash dumps. But we haven’t had to do that for a long time, and there is no excuse for ignorance.”
Both women point out that the problem is not isolated to their communities; it’s raising its ugly head in places up and down the coast. And that’s something that concerns HRM Councillor David Hendsbee (Preston-Chezzetcook/Eastern Shore), who says the issue is a priority and the reason why the municipality toughened up its anti-dumping bylaw in April.
“Before, the fine was $250 per offence,” he says. “Now, we can go up to $10,000, depending on the extent of the [infraction]. We’ve also had the bylaw amended to allow the local police forces, the RCMP, to assist us with the with enforcement.”
He notes that COVID-19 may have something to do with the recent uptick in dumping over the past 14 months. “I think some people, who have been home and who have nothing else to do, are cleaning out their houses,” he says.
“People are also stuffing all those donation bins for diabetes and IWK. At one parking lot in Porter’s Lake, it looked like a dump. At one point during the past year, they had to seal [the bins] up. They weren’t taking anything because of the risk of transmission. But now, with the finer weather, people are back stuffing the donation boxes or illegally dumping their trash.”
He adds: “It’s very frustrating and disgusting that we keep dealing with these illegal dumping matters. There’s no need for this type of travesty to our natural environment. So, we need to fine some of these people and fine them hard and make examples of them.”
But while Osmond-Jewers and Martin agree with Hendsbee’s sentiments, they say he’s wrong about both the cause and the cure.
“COVID is just an excuse for everything these days,” Osmond-Jewers says. “People know that they’re doing wrong. Give somebody a fine? Okay, that’s a joke. That’s just the government trying to put a Band-Aid on a problem. Like, what are they going to do? Are they going to have a drone flying through the air [to identify dumpers]? It doesn’t make any sense.”
Adds Martin: “If they can’t be bothered driving to the dump, they don’t have $10,000 to pay a fine. Good luck, collecting that! Plus, you have to catch them in the act, and that’s the problem. Nobody’s policing these side roads.”
Hendsbee agrees that identification is the key. “Now, we have the reverse onus clause in the new bylaw [which means] that if we find any piece of identification in the garbage, then that person is going to be held responsible,” he says.
“I encourage anybody who comes across a garbage site to give us GPS coordinates to it. And if they can find any piece of identification in the garbage, they should take a picture of it. We need to prove that that’s where it came from.”
Osmond-Jewers says a better use of private time and public money would be to pay local citizens to roam their wooded areas to clean up what they find and keep a watchful eye out for any shenanigans.
“Why not hire some of the locals in this area to do the clean-up? And then why not hire some locals – not just in Moser River, but in other [Eastern Shore] areas – just to go through the woods, maybe once or twice a week and see if there are any problems? And then, maybe, someone could take it from there.”
Hendsbee says the province’s Adopt a Highway Program – the only initiative that comes close to a neighborhood watch for wilderness areas – has been is suspended “until this COVID matter is cleared up. So, any volunteer groups that used to do the roadside litter pickup cleanup projects, they’re all on hold.”
Still, says Osmond-Jewers: “I’m tired of the excuses. Volunteers should not have to go in the woods all the time to clean up these messes. Don’t get me wrong – I’ve cleaned up my fair share, but I’m not getting into some of that stuff that I don’t know what’s in it.”
Lloyd Hines, MLA for Guysborough-Eastern Shore-Tracadie says illegal dumping is a thorn in the side of many communities in rural Nova Scotia. “It’s a problem in areas where it’s not easy for people to get rid of their garbage,” he says. “We always get complaints about it. It’s more of a constant annoyance. Guysborough [County] has very strict, no tolerance policies towards it. And there’s all kinds of signage around, but it still happens. It’s human nature.”
Still, says Osmond-Jewers, that’s not good enough: “There’s no sense of purpose for some people. It makes me very angry. Take care of what you have. We’re only on this Earth for a short time. And there are future generations that have the right to enjoy what’s here.”
Alec Bruce, Local Journalism Initiative Reporter, Guysborough Journal