When good people do bad things

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by Nikki Mantell on September 16, 2009

A couple of years back, we did a large feature story on one of our community’s life-long farmers. At nearly 80, Edmund McSheffery was still working his farm, logging his own bush lot, often using a horse-drawn skid and chopping his own wood. It was picture of a salt-of-the-earth type of guy, a living reminder about where our roots lay in this part of the country, and it was a heartwarming piece.

Last week, we had a front page story that featured the same man in a less flattering light. We ran a photo of a 50-foot high illegal garbage dump he’d allowed to accumulate on his property.

Black and white type can’t always catch shades of grey. What our straightforward news article last week did not say was that this story may also be a sign of the changing times: a clash of old ways and new.

When McSheffery said, “I figured that it was my own property and it wasn’t a problem” we had little doubt in the news room he was being sincere. Farms everywhere are filled with half buried tractors, roof tiles, rusted spring mattresses. Many of us, especially country dwellers, still accept that long-time farmers with an inborn respect and love of the land will dispose of small amounts of personal and farm waste and we won’t be the worse for it.

But mounds of garbage soaring two-storeys high is something different.

Back in the day, we all thought it was OK to dump our junk in some hole somewhere in the woods – municipal garbage pick up wasn’t around yet.

Back in the day, we also thought it was OK to smoke when pregnant, or down a six pack before hitting the road, or let the sewage from our cottages run into the Gatineau River. Times change. We have since learned none of this is OK.

Edmund McSheffery is still a good neighbour, a good person, a good citizen, but he still did, or allowed to happen, something that was illegal and potentially harmful. Was our intention to “eviscerate” an old man as one letter writer this week put it?

No. We have been publishing articles and editorials about garbage, dump closures, other illegal dumpsites and the little help the province is giving small municipalities for this massive global problem for years now. If a local solution isn’t found – and soon – for our accumulating garbage problem, more of these dumps are going to pop up on farms and forest gullies all over the Hills. Last week’s two front page stories shows it’s already happening, and it needs to be written about.

We know we’ve made more than a few farmers angry – reporter Trevor Greenway was threatened by one this weekend at the Rupert Fair who said he’d “break both his knees” if he caught him on his property. Clearly, it’s a touchy subject.

Unfortunately, and like most things in life, this story has a human element to it that makes us all, ourselves at the Low Down included, uncomfortable about this illegal dump story.

This column is to acknowledge that sometimes there is a clash between old ways and new, and that sometimes good people do the wrong thing.