Debris from homeless camp washed into Mamquam River

Abandoned debris were left for six months despite government authorities knowledge.

Flooding has resulted in debris from a former homeless encampment littering the woods and water beside the Mamquam River, despite government officials being aware of the garbage situation six months prior.

On Friday morning, evidence of potentially toxic garbage was littered throughout the forested area and shoreline, including half-buried batteries and an empty jerry can with no lid. Other debris included bike frames, shopping carts, tarps and fabric, as well as magazines and electronics.

An intact generator, wooden debris, a laptop, cooking utensils, plastic bags, fabric and clothing carry on into the woods for several metres surrounding a substantial tarp-tent and wooden structure, just steps from the Mamquam River.

The area is north of the river and east of Highway 99, with nearby protected trout spanning channels.

“I’ve never seen anything like this,” said resident Gary Collins, who stumbled upon the debris, including a half-full propane tank, while walking his dogs in the area.

“I don’t know what this could do to the ecology of the river, or to anyone walking through there. If this propane leached into the river, it could kill the fish, especially the young fish.”

A laminated Ministry of Forests, Lands, Natural Resource Operations and Rural Development trespass notice pinned to the entrance to the rough shelter is dated April 20, 2017.

The note warns that the occupant is required to “restore the Crown land to its previous natural condition” before May 1, 2017.

The Chief is not disclosing the occupant’s name for his safety.

The notice finds the man guilty of “depositing on that same land possessions and debris hazardous to human health and to the environment.”

“Where a person fails to remove an improvement made by the person on Crown land to the satisfaction of the Minister, within the time specified in the notice, the Minister may remove the improvement and require the person to pay the cost of the removal,” reads the notice, citing the B.C. Land Act.

Despite the dated notice suggesting the ministry was aware of the situation in the spring, a large amount of debris remains on site — over six months after the cleanup deadline.

A stolen propane tank and unmarked fuel container suggest potential hazardous material could have been kept at the camp.

“The Ministry is aware of the concerns with regard to the garbage in the area and plans are underway to clean up the site,” said Ministry spokesperson Dawn Makarowski in an emailed statement.

“With regard to the delay in cleaning up the site, the Ministry’s natural resource officers were dealing with the higher priority associated with the unprecedented wildfire season,” she said.

The statement did not include a timeline or estimated cost of the clean-up.

Collins said he is sympathetic to the cost of housing in the District but is concerned about the environmental damage to the fish-bearing Mamquam River.

“Times are tough, rents in this town are astronomical and growing. It’s difficult, I’m sure they didn’t want to live like that.”

“What I find hard to believe is that there is an eviction notice dated April 2017. Obviously, this was pointed out before then. This damage was needless, it could have been cleaned up a long time ago,” he said. “Why didn’t they do something? How much will this cost to clean up now, or do they plan to leave it?”

District communications manager Christina Moore said the situation is on crown land, making it the jurisdiction of the province. She said the district has been in conversation with the ministry and were aware of the debris.

The area was likely heavily flooded during recent heavy rains, spreading the trash throughout the woods and possibly into the waterway. No one appears to currently be living in the soggy remains of the camp.

This story was followed up in a second part published Dec. 13: Volunteers and District lead riverside clean-up after province’s inaction.