Members of the B.C. Conservation Officer Services (COS) and other agencies joined sport fishing advocates on an emergency cleanup on a Chilliwack sandbar on the Fraser River.

Members of the B.C. Conservation Officer Services (COS) and other agencies joined sport fishing advocates on an emergency cleanup on a Chilliwack sandbar on the Fraser River.

Freshet sparks need for riverside cleanup

River stewards jumped into action after an entire camper was gutted, dumped and torched by the Fraser River in Chilliwack.

More than 1,000 kg of toxic garbage will not be floating down the Fraser River as result of some quick action taken by concerned citizens and agencies.

Chris Gadsden of Chilliwack/Vedder River Cleanup Coalition sparked an emergency two-hour cleanup last week when he noticed an entire camper had been gutted, dumped and torched by the river near Old Orchard Road.

Gadsden fired off a bunch of emails trying to round up a truck, to various government reps and volunteers to see if they could take preventative action before it was all washed downriver.

He reported it on the Conservation Officer Service’s Report All Poachers & Polluters (RAPP) tip line, and then posted a note on the Fraser Valley Salmon Society’s page.

In the end, 1010 kg of material was taken to the landfill.

The RAPP line is the best way to report a pollution violation, said Sgt. Steve Jacobi, a supervisor of the Fraser Valley zone with COS who showed up to assist with the cleanup along with some fellow officers.

Time was of the essence because the spring freshet waters are rising on the Fraser.

The CO said he’s not sure why more people don’t make more reports to the RAPP line when they see stuff like this.

The sandbar was on prime fish habitat in one of the greatest wild salmon-producing rivers in the world, with back channels used for sturgeon rearing.

“It’s extremely toxic and illegal to burn material like this,” he said pointing to the remains of a camper. There were charred fibreglass chunks and a partly full container of motor oil among the debris collected.

A violation ticket would start at $575 per incident of burning or dumping, said Jacobi.

The problem is there is no specific agency tasked with the responsibility for cleaning up after criminal garbage-dumping on Crown land, especially when there are no licence plate numbers for COS officers to pursue, said Jacobi.

“Ideally we want to catch people in the act,” he said.

That’s not always possible, but more could be done.

“It’s a total lack of respect for the environment,” said cleanup coalition member Lew Chater.

“It’s hard to get all the agencies together to find out and prosecute who is responsible in a case like this. Without Chris and all these people here, it all would have gone down the river.”

Volunteers were thanked, along with COS and staff from Ministry of Forests, Lands and Natural Resources Operations who brought a truck along, and City of Chilliwack for providing free tipping charges at the Bailey landfill.

“We all felt good and I am sure as we did make a difference today,” said Gadsden.

Agencies have to come together on this type of thing, he said, as it’s all too common in river access areas along the Fraser like Peg Leg, Gill Road, Agassiz-Rosedale bridge and in the Chilliwack River Valley.

Every level of government, from provincial, to federal, to municipal, as well as Fraser Valley Regional District, Outdoor Recreation Council of BC and RCMP need to work together on a plan “to try and address this problem” with resources to enforce laws, and “not just leaving it up to the public as well as organizations that try to deal with these cleanup situations on a yearly basis.”

Locking up river access points doesn’t work.

“Closing the areas I mentioned is not the answer as the people dumping garbage and polluting the environment will just find another place to do so.

“It will take a few prosecutions and fines that may help get the message out that such actions will not be tolerated,” he said.

“Besides there are many people that enjoy accessing these areas and treat them with respect so they should not be denied access.

“We live in Heart Of The Fraser and we should do more to protect this jewel of a river as well as its riparian zone.”

(This text has been modified from the original with updated garbage totals.)

jfeinberg@theprogress.com

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