In AD 867, Vikings raided a Scottish monastery to find nuns who’d disfigured themselves to save their chastity. The raiders revolted – burned everything to the ground.
The proverb reminds us that trying to avoid one problem can create other, unforeseen ones.
Cutting off your nose to spite your face may be standard practice for government in times of fiscal restraint.
According to Maple Ridge Mayor Ernie Daykin, the Ministry of Transportation – responsible for truck stops – was ready to close the one on Lougheed Highway to side-step the problem of pee jugs thrown into the ditch here.
A toilet and garbage cans would have to be cleaned at a cost to the ministry.
Closing the stop would have made life harder on truckers, and only shifted dumping to other communities.
Daykin averted that by ordering the ditch cleaned, a garbage can added, as well a $10,000 fine for littering.
Maybe we’ll find fewer pee jugs on roads into town, too.
“The Coquihalla is jammed packed with garbage, and the washrooms are not maintained,” says trucker Mike Young, who called me last week.
“My piss jug gets recycled. It’s not the older guys who throw them out windows, but new ones. A lot are lazy and don’t care.”
Lower Mainland cities don’t seem to care, either.
“In Surrey, Langley, and Abbotsford,” says Young, “they don’t even have washrooms for truckers. This makes all truckers very agitated.”
The pull-out in Abbotsford near Highway 1 and Lonzo Creek, a salmon stream, is often full of pee jugs.
Doug Gosling, an Abbotsford stream keeper, says a ministry employee told him it, too, would be shut down because of this problem, which exists at all truck stops. When he suggested the ministry put a bin on site, he was told the cost of garbage removal is too great.
The cost of not doing anything grows daily.
“There’s a large pile of garbage MoT has to collect near the truck stop which now abuts new homeless camps,” says Gosling.
Last summer, Abbotsford tried to rid itself of homeless people and their garbage by spreading chicken manure in highly visible camps.
Has it worked? This new camp – hidden from public scrutiny – has no toilets.
Last summer, Abbotsford CFIA inspector Avtar Singh told me chicken manure contains botulism, a serious disease, even if composted. What’s the effect of untreated feces on people, on water?
Gosling was told that transportation ministry crews won’t enter the new camp alone because of a dangerous criminal element, “and sharps” (needles) strewn around.
“The more I learn about this whole issue,” says Gosling, “the more I want to bring it to provincial authorities like Fraser Health.”
Tasleem Juma of Fraser Health told me the agency hasn’t had complaints about pee jugs at the truck stop, but would work on the problem with provincial ministries, if asked. They haven’t so far. That’s because nobody acknowledged the camps until Gosling discovered them, and informed me.
“My concern,” says Gosling, who has a waste water inspection business, “is keeping groundwater clean and free from contamination. The aquifer under Sumas Prairie is very shallow, so not much filtering goes on. When I told the MoT guy the stream was being used for irrigation of food crops and indirectly, for drinking water, he was concerned the water is at risk. I wouldn’t’ be surprised if someone isn’t using it for drinking water now.”
Gosling will discuss this with Fraser Health. He’s spoken to a city worker, who suggested the pee issue could be addressed “during future truck parking applications.”
But, if the ministry carries out its plan to close truck stops to avoid costs, it’s unlikely there’ll be new parking applications in any town. Instead, we’ll have more proof of what happens when government – boasting fiscal restraint -cuts its nose off to spite its face.
Jack Emberly is a retired teacher, local author and environmentalist.