Contractors and provincial reps were back at the Sweltzer Creek homeless camp Wednesday on the Chilliwack River Wednesday to finish the cleanup.
Cleanup crews were hauling away bags of garbage, and bike parts, and helping to ferry some of the remaining occupants with their belongings across the water from the small island to shore.
“Two occupants had not left yet,” reported Chris Gadsden, one of the founders of the Chilliwack-Vedder Cleanup Society. He along with other concerned residents and Fraser Valley Regional District (FVRD) officials contacted the Ministry of Forests, Lands, Natural Resource Operations and Rural Development (FLNRORD) to report the camp locations and have them dismantled.
One of the individuals living rough in the area had tried to hide bike parts and other items nearby but the cleanup contractors with Recycle It Canada uncovered the items under a bunch of leaves.
”All involved in the cleanup were very professional in the work they were doing with the occupants,” Gadsden said, adding they were asked if they had somewhere to go, and they said they did.
Next step for concerned river stewards and FVRD officials is conducting an inventory of any other camps along the Chilliwack-Vedder river system.
“My biggest takeaway from this is that action has to be initiated earlier before these camps get out of hand,” Orion Engar, FVRD Area E director told The Progress. “People are falling by the wayside. But if they’re not willing to be moving them off Crown land regularly, they need to be intervening for illegal activity or public safety issues.”
It seems to be getting worse in the rural areas like the Chilliwack River Valley, where there’s “a high risk” of the trash and debris degrading the sensitive environment, Engar said.
FVRD has jurisdiction on private land, but not on Crown land, so the onus for earlier action is on provincial ministries like FLNRORD.
“Hopefully these cleanups will continue,” Gadsden added. “We certainly have the government’s attention on this one, thanks to all for your posts and phone calls, too. With heavy rain in the forecast on the weekend we may have just got this done in time.”
It’s been an ongoing challenge in the area to keep the vulnerable riparian zones near the river free of damaging garbage and illegal occupancy.
A spokesperson with the Ministry of Forests, Lands, Natural Resource Operations and Rural Development confirmed that ministry staff visited the encampment on Friday, and returned on Wednesday. The Recycle It Canada contractors began cleaning the site on Friday and were finished by late afternoon on Nov. 13.