Illegal dumping is a problem running rampant throughout the South Okanagan and the Penticton Indian Band is leading the charge to combat the issue on a regional level.
James Pepper, natural resources director for the Penticton Indian Band, presented to the Regional District of Okanagan-Similkameen on Thursday urging for a deeper collaboration between municipalities and territory members to acquire funding to fight illegal dumping and to more freely share information around known dumpers.
Pepper noted staff at PIB and the Regional District have talked at length about the issue and are working towards solutions that might include other surrounding regional districts.
Over the last two years the PIB natural resources department along with help from community volunteers have cleaned up over 1,000 illegal dumping sites on reserve land and throughout the Syilx Territory. Many of those sites are related to illegal camping.
“We are patrolling everyday. We’re cleaning up sites every day and evicting illegal campers every day as best we can,” Pepper said.
Illegal campers are often evicted from reserve land and head back into Penticton area for a time, but then return and make a mess in another area. Pepper noted the channel lands where PIB natural resources staff along with support from the RCMP evict hundreds of illegal campers each year.
“We don’t target campers that are down on their luck or are travelling through and keep things clean. But we are finding a lot of the campers are coming with social issues. They come on reserve lands and do drugs, they have mental issues, they’re doing bad things,” he said.
Pepper said in addition to illegal dumping, fires are also a concern. Nine fires were started on PIB land by illegal campers this summer.
“We’re not working together, not sharing information and we should because that could help us keep track of these people.”
Pepper said the PIB has a good relationship with the RCMP who comes out to evict illegal campers, but the liaison officer cannot dedicate all their time to just that issue.
“They only have so much time. There are other things that are important. When we go without them and serve an eviction notice it doesn’t carry as much weight and sometimes can turn into a volatile situation and we’re not trained for that. So there is only so much we can do without the RCMP.”
Illegal campers are not the only cause of illegal dumping, volunteers and staff clean up sites daily from people dumping household waste and contractors getting rid of industrial waste including drywall and other construction material.
Hazardous waste cleaned up this year include used needles and old drums of oil.
Pepper said many dumpers drop things in ravines and creeks spilling waste and contaminating waterways.
“It’s out of sight and out of mind,” he said. “These are hard spots for us to get too but important for us to cleanup.”
The PIB is working internally to stop illegal dumping and have created a Guardian Program that uses volunteers to patrol reserve lands daily. A number of cameras have been setup at known active illegal dumping sites. The cameras collect photographic evidence, but no charges were laid as of yet. Cameras even captured images of construction company trucks dumping industrial waste.
“We have cameras capture trucks that come in full along the Summerland, Penticton interface and they leave empty. We have pictures of people unloading but we don’t have their faces so the police can’t use them.”
PIB staff check each dump site for identifying material, but that information cannot be used to issue fines because there is no way to know if that person dumped the material, Pepper said.
He said PIB staff contacted companies identified through the cameras but the response was lack lustre.
“The companies asked if we had contacted police. We did, but the process of issuing of fines is difficult. We just don’t hold much weight with these people. It’s one of those things that if it was a company maybe you could withhold business licences or that kind of thing.”
Several directors brought forward the idea of public shaming by putting pictures of the culprits online.
Pepper said the PIB had not yet gone that route but thought that was something that all municipalities could consider in the future.
“It should be a collective thing so it has more weight,” he said.
The RDOS was waiving tipping fees for refuse collected by the PIB from illegal dumping sites, but that stopped this summer. Pepper said staff thought they were bringing material from rundown houses on the reserve. He suggested perhaps a program could be put in place to waive those fees.
“We were paying for it but we’ve run out of money for this,” he said. “We collect information from each site. We document it. We take pictures. We can supply proof if that’s what’s needed.”
Directors did not provide any recommendations to staff during the Environment and Infrastructure Committee meeting.
Bill Newell, CAO of the RDOS, said staff would continue to work with the PIB staff and contact other area municipalities to develop ways to work together to dissuade illegal dumping.