North

Illegal dumping at Yellowknife sandpits sparks citizen cleanup effort

The sandpits past the Yellowknife airport are not a dump, but some people treat them that way.

Despite COVID-19 provisions temporarily closing landfill, no increase in dumping this year, city says

The contents of a bag of household garbage discarded and spread about at the Yellowknife sandpits on July 2. The area is not a dump, but some people treat it that way. (Walter Strong/CBC)

The sandpits just past the Yellowknife airport are not a dump, but some people are treating them that way.

The area's wide-open spaces, small ponds and semi-hidden, out-of-the-way spots are often littered with debris better suited for the municipal landfill: general household garbage, empty packages of smokes, disposable coffee cups, couches, scrap metal, clothing.

Entire vehicles sit, or have sat, wrecked and abandoned in the sparse and gnarly forest the area's sandy soil sustains.

The popular recreation area isn't the only place in or around Yellowknife where people illegally dump their garbage, but it's a convenient spot. Posts to the Facebook group Yellowknife Cleanup include a preponderance of images of garbage and citizen cleanup projects from the area.

Eric Bussey, the city's director of public safety, said municipal enforcement tracks call outs to deal with illegal dumping. Despite the temporary closure of the landfill under COVID-19 provisions, this year's accumulation of garbage in the Yellowknife area is generally in line with what the city sees every spring, even if there may have been a very slight spike this year.

Yellowknife Cleanup

In this composite image, a man retrieves a discarded couch from waters at the Yellowknife sandpits, left, and the couch once out of the water. The people behind the Facebook group Yellowknife Cleanup help get rid of garbage others have left behind. (Yellowknife Cleanup/Facebook)

The Facebook group Yellowknife Cleanup was created in May and now has 370 members. According to its page description, it's "A place to identify illegal dumping (appliances, tires, car batteries, etc.) in and/or around Yellowknife."

The group was formed by Kiersten Londea and a friend.

"We just created it because of the amount of garbage that we saw around town," Londea said in a Facebook chat.

"We both have young children and don't want them to have to play around so much garbage so we just made it to hopefully encourage people to clean up after themselves and others. It definitely took off a lot more [than] we had hoped and [we're] so happy to see the community coming together.

"We also participated in the spring clean up, I like to say 'the garbage may not be mine but the earth is, and I want to respect it.'"

Members post photos of debris, and the work done to clean it up. 

"Residents helping clean up … is always a good thing," Bussey said.

"We do work with the owners, if there's a dumping on property, and look for ways to resolve the issue. Citizen action is always encouraging to see and we want to make sure that … everything is done in a safe way and compliant way."

$300 fine

Bussey said there's a cost to taxpayers associated with illegal dumping. The city periodically sends out crews to deal with it. Although that cost isn't tracked directly, it adds up.

City municipal enforcement officers can write up tickets for infractions anywhere in city limits, and that includes at the sandpits where part of the area is managed by the government of the Northwest Territories.

Fines for the "unauthorized disposal of waste" under city bylaw number 4376 run from $300 for a first offence to $600 for a third.

"We encourage people, if they do see any sign or any activity of illegal dumping, to let us know right away," Bussey said.

"It's quite often the challenge to investigate, because if it's after the fact, it's just difficult to prove and to respond to. It's always easier to respond when something is underway and we encourage citizens who do have information to pass it along to us at our dispatch centre administration number 920-2737."

Bussey said the vast majority of Yellowknifers abide by rules around waste disposal — most of it ends up at the landfill where it should be.

"[But] it only takes a couple of people who don't follow the rules to create issues for everybody."

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