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This mess appears to be courtesy of a contractor who finished a painting job and dropped their garbage in the great outdoors. - Jason Unrau/NNSL photo

Trashy trails

Jason Unrau
Northern News Services
Wednesday, May 30, 2007

YELLOWKNIFE - In a city that prides itself on having pristine wilderness just a stone's throw from its urban sprawl, some still insist on using the great wide open as their personal trash depot.

Garbage Facts

  • Construction/Demolition waste: $40/tonne
  • Contaminated soils: $60/tonne
  • Cooking grease: $20/tonne
  • Scrap metal: $35/tonne
  • Automobiles: $100 each
  • Refrigerator: $35 each
  • Other: $10 each
  • Tires less than 20" diameter: $4 each
  • Greater than 20": $ 8 each
  • Car batteries: $4 each
  • The term "litterbug" might describe one who tosses a soda can out their car window, but for those who discard appliances, mounds of building waste or expired automobiles in the great outdoors, perhaps another term is required.

    For Yellowknife Solid Waste Facility Manager Bruce Underhay, it's "lazy."

    "It probably cost them more in gas to drive wherever they dumped this pile," Underhay said of paint drums and related supplies left at the sandpits. "Let's face it, for the five bucks (in tipping fees), to me, this seems to be more an act of convenience."

    Visibly unimpressed by a slide show of illegally-dumped garbage, nothing surprises Underhay, who has worked at the city's landfill for the last decade.

    "Since I've been here there's always been illegal dumping," said Underhay, who downplays the new tipping fees' impact on increasing such activity.

    "Even before tipping fees we used to find a load of garbage outside the gate a least one morning a week."

    In July 2005, the city introduced surcharges to dispose of items ranging from appliances, hazardous chemicals and automobiles at the dump.

    Seven months later, dump fees ranging from $200 to bring in a five-tonne truck for disposal to a standard $5 tipping fee for household waste were brought in by the city. There are also rates for contaminated soil ($60 per tonne) and $10 for expired kitchen stoves, washers or dryers.

    "Basic appliances are $10 but freezers and air-conditioners are more," said Underhay.

    He said a technician visits once a month to deal with Freon removal from newly-arrived coolers and fridges, raising the tipping fee to $35 for those items.

    "In some ways, maybe there shouldn't be any tipping fees," said Yellowknife resident Dean Robertson, while legally discarding remnants from a recent home renovation project at the dump. "Maybe that's the reason they are dumping appliances."

    Tipping fees or no tipping fees, pick a dirt road leading off the Ingraham Trail and you are more likely to encounter lonely appliances rusting in the bush than any wildlife. Dennis Kefalas, manager of public works and engineering for the city, said his crew is often called out to collect the dumped items.

    "Usually a resident will phone and tell us they found some stuff somewhere," he said.

    "It's really normal household waste, usually left in an out of the way place (but) somewhere you have access to with a vehicle."

    Fines for dumping can be up to $2,000 for individuals and $10,000 for corporate violators, but Kefalas said it's rare to catch somebody and when they do, the general directive is to clean things up.

    "I wouldn't say we've caught anybody red-handed, but sometimes you can find evidence and trace it back," Kefalas said.

    "One time someone illegally dumped concrete, we figured out who it was and asked them to clean it up (but) more than 50 per cent of the time, it's somebody who's left town."

    For those who remain in Yellowknife, the blight littering leaves on the landscape can be too much to bear. France Benoit was so frustrated with the amount of trash at the roadside, she and a friend spearheaded an annual volunteer cleanup with the help of the Department of Transportation.

    While Benoit's once-a-year trail sweep does not address the huge hidden waste piles left in the forest, it is a valiant effort towards keeping the region looking green, instead of resembling 50th Street after a busy weekend.

    "It frustrates me very much," said Benoit.

    "I thought we had made a lot of progress. (But) I think there are dirty people everywhere (out driving on the trail).

    "People think 'who is going to see me, anyway.'"