Illegal dumping a growing problem in Gatineau Hills, Quebec

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by Mark Burgess on September 10, 2009

It doesn’t smell especially bad for a 50-foot mound of garbage in Wakefield, Quebec. Its contents include rusty bed springs, refrigerators, tires, siding, barbed wire, Christmas ornaments, steel barrels and board upon board of wood with rusty nails, but not the waste that would attract animals and blow its cover with a revealing stench.

The worst part of the dumpsite on Maxwell Road, off River Rd in La Peche, might be its lack of novelty, its failure to shock. Two of the three La Peche home renovators contacted knew of similar eyesores off the top of their heads. Chelsea’s Chief of Public Works could name three illegal dumping sites in his municipality. Both Pontiac MRC Warden Michael McCrank and Cantley dry dump spokesperson Andre Guibord warned of an outbreak of illegal dumping when the Danford dump was rejected and the Cantley dry dump closed.

Gary Martin, a renovator for 20 years who’s now doing his PhD at Carleton University in geography and environmental studies, says the problem of illegal dumping is far more common than we would like to imagine, and not restricted to the construction industry.

“If you ride a bicycle like I do you’ll see it all over the place,” he said. There are “favourite spots” across La Peche where people toss old appliances, avoiding the costs and hassles of proper disposal.

Martin said there’s a site near his house in Masham full of “mostly inert, benign stuff” such as old drywall and cabinetry, “like someone gutted their house and threw it in the field.”

Another renovator, David Dajo, said he’s “really pissed off” about a pile not far from the one the Low Down found, at Tibbit and McClinton roads near River Road.

“I’m doing my own dumping and paying for it and someone dumps on my street,” Dajo said. He said his wife had reported the site to the municipality.

The costs of dumping are no mere footnote to the problem. Martin said he keeps his toxic materials in a bin at his home and disposes of it once a year at a hazardous waste site. He’s able to do this because he works alone and without many materials.

“But the ones using that stuff everyday – do you think they go to a toxic waste site?” he asked. “They can’t do that. They’d lose their shirts.”

Dajo said he keeps a dumpster at his home that he fills throughout the week and brings to the Perkins dump in Val-des-monts every Friday. He pays about $100 each time, for a 1.5 tonne load – what he said is roughly double what he paid at Cantley, which charged by volume rather than weight.

Cantley was hardly known for its discernment. Opponents throughout the years-long struggle to have it closed accused the dump of accepting materials beyond its ‘dry’ mandate.

“They never inspected anything. They just took anything,” Martin said.

That alleged blind tolerance and casual measuring standard inevitably left a void and a cost burden for renovators when the dump closed. Cantley’s mayor, Steve Harris, said the construction industry threatened that the dump’s closing would cause a surge in illegal dumping but he said there’s been no sign of that so far in Cantley.

With Quebec’s Environment Ministry’s forced closure of trench landfills in th e Pontiac region this fall and rejection of the Danford dump, the spectre of widespread illegal dumping was raised by MRC Pontiac Warden Michael McCrank. He told the Low Down in June that the fees to ship waste to Lachute would be too much for poorer municipalities and that the region’s lakes and rivers would bear the cost.

La Peche is unaffected by the Danford verdict, though, as the MRC des Collines-de-l’Outaouais has already been shipping its waste to Lachute for years.

Martin thinks the problem is rooted in antiquated thinking as much as financial necessity. He said there’s a lack of information about the harm certain products can cause and how they need to be disposed of, as well as a mentality that says” It’s my property, don’t tell me what I can put on the ground and in the ground”.

“There’s a whole life-cycle consequence. Down the road, somebody’s drinking that,” he said of toxins carelessly discarded. “People don’t understand the interconnection in the ecosystem.”

Martin said he’s seen some improvement among area carpenters, who are reusing materials and asking questions about the products they use, but he still warns of the “increasing cumulative effects” of careless disposal.

An all-too-common image, he said, is that of the renovator who has just used paint or vapour seals or foam spray and stands with an empty can in his hand, uncertain of what to do next. Martin said such moments can be paralysing. Too often, the expedient impulse reigns.