As the last of the snow leaves Muskoka, residents are encountering problems not just with the annual flooding but also with another springtime issue: garbage. Residents in Bracebridge and other areas of Muskoka are encountering litter revealed by snowmelt, but many are concerned that illegal dumping is just as big of a problem.
Local Paige Michel spent over an hour cleaning up garbage with her mom in a field behind Monck Public School shortly after she moved back from university for the summer. The area is a common place for Michel’s family and their neighbours to walk their dogs. Michel’s mom had noticed four Home Depot buckets and a large black garbage bag sitting in the field and wasn’t sure if they had been buried in the snow or recently placed there. A few days later, the lids had been taken off the buckets and the contents were dumped all over the ground. The garbage bag was also torn to shreds, though Michel said it could have been people or animals.
“[My mom] told me this as we walked towards the area as a warning,” Michel said. “Once we got back there, it was everywhere and the smell was overpowering.”
They saw a number of water bottles filled to the top with water and cigarette butts, beer cans, pizza boxes and other items, some of which Michel said were too gross to name. Michel and her mom came back the next day on April 21 to clean it up as it was getting dark. They ended up collecting 3 full large garbage bags and 2 bins of recycling before the garbage was fully cleaned up.
They contacted the town to pick up the garbage they had collected and as of April 25, the town has picked it up. Michel said there is no video surveillance over the area or no other easy way to catch the people who dumped the garbage, but she hopes that by bringing the amount of garbage to the town’s attention, they can do more to stop the issue from getting progressively worse.
Michel and her mom clean up litter regularly, she said, especially in the spring due to the snow melting and revealing garbage. However, she said this year is worse than usual and illegal dumping plays a role. Michel wants locals to understand that the it’s more than just an eyesore, saying it’s an environmental issue as well as a health and safety concern.
Michael Fishleigh said he’s also encountered consistent problems with garbage that has been dumped illegally, particularly on Rostrevor Road. Snow is often cleared in the area above the creek, he said, allowing for illegal dumping into the creek in the early spring. He said he’s asked for the town to put up a fence or guard rail to no avail.
“I have contacted them repeatedly about the dumping there and they have done nothing,” Fishleigh said. “I contacted them two weeks ago about the plowed out section right above the creek and told them my concerns. Now that someone has dumped there again, I have tried to make contact and left message with the answering service but have not had any response.”
Fishleigh said he is hoping to identify the culprit using USP codes on shingles that were dumped or through trail cam footage that could provide a license plate number, but he will continue to contact the township and the police department about the issue.
Bracebridge’s Chief By-Law Enforcement Officer Scott Stakiw said that illegal dumping is a problem in most urban and rural municipalities throughout Canada and the town receives approximately 10 to 15 illegal dumping complaints each year.
“When the town is made aware of illegal dumping anywhere within the Town of Bracebridge, a by-law officer will be sent out to investigate the complaint,” Stakiw said. “The officer will attempt to find any documentation within the dumped material that may help to identify the person responsible for the illegal dumping. Oftentimes, the dumped material is construction debris and there is no documentation available.”
Stakiw said that if the complainant observed the incident, they can sometimes provide a vehicle description or vehicle licence plate number to help with the investigation. However, without any proof showing responsibility for the illegal dumping, which is most often the case, it is left to the property owner to have the dumped material cleaned up, he said. If the dumping took place on municipal property including road allowances, the town cleans it up.
Most illegal dumping takes place in remote or secluded areas, Stakiw said, meaning there is usually little or no evidence to find those responsible. If the dumping is a serious issue such as large amounts of hazardous waste, the OPP may be contacted to investigate. Aside from the $150 fine under the by-law for illegal dumping, the town is able to proceed by way of a court summons for more serious incidents that could potentially lead to a fine of up to $5,000 as well as restitution or other court orders.