Chilliwack residents plan illegal dumping response

In response to community complaints about illegal dumping throughout Chilliwack, provincial conservation officers held a meeting to remind residents about actions they can take to curtail pollution.

About 50 people gathered at Yarrow Community School on Wednesday night to listen as Denny Chretien, a member of the B.C. Conservation Officer Service for Fraser Valley, guided them through the process of reporting polluters.

Chretien reminded people that the most important action is to stay out of harm's way. When safe to do so, witnesses to illegal dumping should record as much information as they can.

This includes descriptions and, if possible, photos of the items dumped, of the vehicle, of the occupants, and of the exact location. Getting the vehicle plate and VIN numbers is important, as are basic details such as time of day and date. Witnesses should then call the Report All Poachers and Polluters (RAPP) hotline at 1877-952-7277, or report the incident online.

All legitimate calls are immediately forwarded to a provincial conservation officer, Chretien says.

"We try to follow up on all of our calls. Our accountability is high," says Chretien. "All the calls that come into our call centre are taken seriously, and files are created."

As evidence builds in one case, and the conservation office has mounting information on a person, a vehicle, the items, and a specific location, then officers are much more able to take action.

In the Lower Mainland, RAPP receives 150-350 calls on illegal dumping annually.

Actions against polluters range from a $115 littering ticket, to a minimum $575 fine for illegally disposing of any waste that should have gone to the city dump.

In the Fraser Valley in the last year, Chretien distributed four of the $575 fines to one individual, who was dumping waste on a forestry services road near Hope. Maximum fines for individuals are $2,000 and six months in jail.

Most recently, in the last two months, Chretien has also issued four written and verbal warnings around Chilliwack. For all, he gathered and filed the drivers' licences and vehicle plate information.

When it comes to businesses dumping commercial waste illegally, regardless of whether it's on private or public land, the conservation department will absolutely take serious legal action, says Chretien.

"A business will be brought to court, and we will be seeking maximum fines...We'll fight for those maximum charges and fines, which could lead into the big dollars." Maximum penalty for a commercial business illegally dumping waste is $1 million.

Responding to information that witnesses send in, conservation officers frequently place surveillance, such as patrols or cameras, at high-risk sites.

But the provincial department can only patrol Crown land. For private landowners, the issue becomes one of enforcing trespassing laws on private property, which falls to the local police department.

"The taxpayers will not pay me their tax money to security guard a private property," explains Chretien.

Landowners of property that regularly receives illegal dumping find this frustrating, because the only recourse becomes a civil suit based on extensive identifying information that they collect. Nevertheless, Kelly Hawes, who owns 32 acres on the West side of Vedder Mountain, found hope in the meeting.

"It's all a process. It's the beginning of a process. And I could see it getting better as it goes along. But right now, it'll be cumbersome and a lot of work to do this," she says of the requirement to document who goes up the mountain to dump garbage.

The Chilliwack-Vedder River Cleanup Society, a group that has organized 37 river cleanups since forming in 2002, was thrilled that the meeting took place.

"It's very see that there's going to be some concerted effort to deal with all this dumping of garbage throughout our area," says director Chris Gadsden.

The society has scheduled another mass cleanup for April 20 at the Great Blue Heron Nature Reserve.

Attendees at the meeting included Chilliwack city councillor Jason Lum, Fraser Valley Regional District director David Lamson, many members from the Chilliwack-Vedder River Cleanup Society, ICBC, owners of land on which people frequently dump garbage, and other concerned residents.
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