The Stocking Lake Trail is a beautiful wooded hike, growing in popularity, accessed by a 10-minute drive up a steep logging road.
Its main access is from the Bannon Creek Forest Service road running westward off the Trans Canada Highway south of Ladysmith.
But the Bannon Creek Forest Service Road is not just a path to one of the region’s secret treasures. It is a path to one of its shames: it is a major thoroughfare for a rampant problem of illegal dumping.
Peter Williams, who runs a local landscaping operation called All Seasons Services, decided to do something about it. Williams drove his work truck into the area and removed 75 kilograms of junk and yard waste.
“There was a post on one of the Ladysmith sites about it,” Williams said. “I was heading to Ladysmith to do some gravel for a guy. I didn’t know exactly where [the garbage] was, so I drove around and finally found it, and picked it all up.”
The truckload took Williams 90 minutes to collect. He thinks people are using the area as a dump to avoid tipping fees.
“Go to the dump. It doesn’t cost that much… It’d maybe only cost about ten or fifteen bucks to dispose of that load. You drove right past the entrance of the dump, it’s right there,” Williams said.
And that is the irony of the situation: the Bannon Creek service road begins just a few hundred metres away from the Peerless Road transfer station, the main waste disposal site for the north end of the Cowichan Valley.
Subsequent investigation by the Vancouver Island Free Daily revealed several piles of assorted garbage, yard waste, scrap metal — even a boat — dumped off the road, all within a 100-foot radius of a water treatment facility.
NOT JUST ONE AREA AFFECTED
Illegal dumping is a problem that plagues many communities on Vancouver Island.
The issue is multi-faceted. Jurisdictional overlap between municipal, provincial, and federal governments leads to confusion over which group is responsible for clean-up. Some of the land is also owned by private individuals or companies.
The Bannon Creek Forest Service road winds between North Cowichan and the Town of Ladysmith. Signs say the area is monitored by the Cowichan Valley Regional District, however the CVRD said the signs are outdated, and display a phone number that is no longer in service.They believe the area is outside their jurisdiction.
Confusion over responsibility has led to private citizens taking action on their own. Williams is a part of a group called the Cowichan Valley Clean Up Effort. Williams is an administrator for the group, which has already organized a clean up of the Cowichan River, and a neighbourhood near Duncan.
Group spokesperson Lehanna Green believes part of the problem is private contractors are being paid to remove waste, but instead of taking it to the dump, they dump it in the forest and keep the tipping fee.
“I wonder how many people are being paid to haul stuff away, and then they’re taking the money for the hauling job, and they’re just dumping it up in the bushes,” Green said. “When we were cleaning the river… and it was just the easiest place for people to dump old couches, mattresses, and bags of household garbage that people had brought down, and just casually knocked off the back of their truck.”
As group coordinator, Green often has to communicate with four different municipalities to figure out who has jurisdiction in what area in an effort to get local government support.
“In order for you to get tipping fees waived you have to connect yourself with a non-profit society,” Green said. “Cowichan Green Community actually sponsors us to go do this. I get people when they come down to fill out a volunteer form.”
According to Green, the bureaucracy makes it difficult to complete cleanups in a timely fashion. Despite the challenges, Green says that people in the community have been generous with their time in helping to clean the areas.
“Not everybody wants to come down and help us, but people found out we couldn’t get tipping, and we’d have to go through a process to get it. People were like, ‘I’ll donate one-hundred-bucks, here take it,’” Green said.
Along with community members supporting the group, businesses like Mosiac forests have donated $500 to the group. Ocean Ecoventures, run by Simon Pidcock, offered close shop for the day and have staff help in future cleanup efforts.
“These are the superstars in our community, they’re not waiting around for the government to deal with stuff, they’re actually going out and doing it themselves,” Green said.
SITUATION LEADS TO LOCKOUTS
Governments often deal with illegal dumping by sending bylaw enforcement officers to the area in hopes of finding identifying information among the disposed items. They then contact individuals and attempt to remediate costs.
Officials also place gates at the entrance of forestry roads, which has led to many areas of Vancouver Island being locked down, and has left hunters and fishers locked out of hunting grounds.
Dave Judson of the Ladysmith Sportsmen’s Club is familiar not only with the garbage in his hunting grounds, but he has also been involved in multiple cleanups on private lands as well.
“It’s sad because everybody talks about private lands being locked, and they don’t like it, right? I work for the timber companies for BRI Security. Ladysmith side is clean because it’s active and it’s locked,” Judson said. “We’ve done seven cleanups and cleaned up 83 tonnes of garbage in seven years. According to my records, on average, 10 tonnes a year finds it way back to local areas.”
Judson explained that this is not an isolated issue. Doumont road in Nanaimo suffers from similar problems, as does Lake Cowichan, Duncan, Little Mountain in Coombs, and northern Vancouver Island. Judson says the problems in the Bannon Creek area are exacerbated by easy access to the area.
“The trouble being open is it’s the only place open within the general area of Ladysmith. Say on New Year’s if you want to have a bonfire and go trap shooting, it’s heavy, it’s full of people because there’s limited places to go,” Judson said.
“We pickup an average of three to five tonnes a year (in that area). I have picked up fibreglass 16-foot boats, fifth wheels, you name it. Yesterday I found camper on a trailer just dumped up Nanaimo Lakes.”
Judson is concerned that some people may have intentions of going to the dump, but that the dump may be closed when they get there, so people take it into the bush instead. He also echoed concerns that private contractors were dumping loads in forest areas.
Judson believes part of the solution would be expanding dump hours and reducing the cost of tipping fees.
“A lot of the stuff I found up the mountain is recyclable for free,” Judson said. “We pay billions of dollars collectively on behalf of the environment in environmental fees. Those fees are collected on behalf of the environment, use them to save the environment. Offset dump fees, or expand dump hours.”
This is something that Green and Cowichan Valley Cleanup agree with. Green suggested that dumps could even have at least one day a year where they completely waive tipping fees.
Cowichan Valley Cleanup Effort has organized a cleanup of the area. It will be held on the weekend of July 27 and 28, from 8 a.m. to 4 p.m. both days. Green has secured free tipping for volunteers. Williams has supplied his gravel truck and secured a large dump truck for the effort as well.
Volunteers are needed. People interested in the cleanup effort can contact the Cowichan Valley Cleanup Effort on Facebook, or search for Bannon Creek Road Clean Up.