Piles of construction trash have been discarded in a field near Harvey Road and 176 Street in Port Kells.

Dirty problem costing big bucks

Cleaning up illegally disposed trash cost city taxpayers
more than $800,000 last year.

There were piles of construction waste such as drywall, lumber and insulation, along with mattresses, plastic pails, broken hot tubs, computer parts, baby seats, and in one instance, 10 tonnes of sea urchin shells.

A visit to the local landfill?

No. A drive through Surrey streets.

A morning ride earlier this week through less-populated areas of Surrey revealed a dirty problem that’s costing taxpayers a fortune to clean up: Illegal dumping.

The city spent more than $800,000 last year hauling away trash that had been pitched in ditches, fields, empty lots and road sides, with a 2010 cost increase the largest jump in 10 years.

Figures provided by the city at the request of The Leader show over the last decade, Surrey taxpayers were on the hook for more than $6 million thanks to people dumping large amounts of refuse in neighbourhoods rather than taking it to a waste transfer station or landfill.

Last year saw a dramatic increase of 22 per cent, as the cost of cleaning up illegal dumping in Surrey shot up $147,000 to $830,000 for the year. The amount is equal to the annual property taxes for homes occupying eight square city blocks.

Mayor Dianne Watts was incensed when she learned of the rising price tag.

“It’s totally unacceptable for taxpayers to foot the bill because there are irresponsible people that continue to dump garbage,” Watts said Tuesday. “I’m going to be meeting with staff and coming up with some strategies to catch these people.”

Part of the increase in dumping is due to a growing population, increasing costs of using landfills, the lack of a local residential drop off  (RDO) in South Surrey, and confusion about where to take materials that won’t be accepted by Surrey’s transfer station in Port Kells.

Surrey’s population has grown by 32 per cent over the last decade, but the cost of cleaning up illegal dumping has soared by 180 per cent during that time.

Part of last year’s spike may be due to the fact the fees for taking trash to waste transfer stations went up 18 per cent on Jan. 1, 2010. The region imposed another 18-per-cent increase at the start of this year, so illegal dumping could continue to rise if cost is a contributing factor.

The region has long-promised – and failed to deliver – a second RDO in Surrey.

Coun. Linda Hepner, who sits on the regional waste committee, said it’s in the Metro Vancouver budget for this year, but she’ll believe it when she sees it, noting Surrey has had an agreement with the region for the second RDO for the past decade, but Metro has yet to deliver.

In addition to the city getting hit with clean-up costs, an unknown amount of waste is being dumped on private property, leaving the landowners with hefty bills.

Lloyd Ratzlaff got stung with a $3,000 invoice when someone dumped more than 10 tonnes of sea urchin shells on his property at 168 Street and Barnston Road.

Ratzlaff said the urchins are a seafood delicacy, but the shells are considered special waste. The Surrey transfer station wouldn’t take them, so they were dumped on his property.

Vincent LaLonde, Surrey’s general manager of engineering, said sites under construction are also a favourite target of illegal dumpers.

LaLonde will be tabling the issue at a regional meeting of municipal engineers today (Friday), with hopes of coming up with some solutions and possibly recommendations for stiffer laws provincially.

As the province and region push toward a goal of zero waste, LaLonde says it’s important to watch for fallout.

“If we see a burgeoning problem associated with that, I think it’s only appropriate to analyze all means that need to be taken to curb the illegal dumping,” he said, adding it’s a problem that is occurring city-wide.

Watts said she will recommend implementing closed-circuit television on some of the sites that are frequently used in order to catch the perpetrators.

Anyone witnessing someone dumping trash illegally is encouraged to immediately call the police non-emergency line at 604-599-0502.

Where to take trash:

• Surrey’s transfer station is at 9770 192 St. and is open Monday to Friday (and holidays) 8 a.m. to 5 p.m and weekends from 8 a.m. to 6 p.m.

• Garbage disposal cost is  $82 a tonne, with a minimum charge of $20 on peak hours of 10 a.m. to 2 p.m. All other times, the minimum charge is $10.

•  Green waste disposal cost is $59 a tonne, with a minimum charge of $20 in peak hours, and $6 all other times.

• For a list of items accepted at the transfer station, visit http://www.wastech.ca/index.php?page=surrey-transfer-station or call 604-513-2409.

• To learn what items are banned from the transfer station, visit MetroVancouver

Recycles.org or call 604-732-9253.