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Dirty old town

It seems to be everywhere you look these days – tucked up against buildings or sidewalks, tangled in foliage, drifting across roads. Port aux Basques has a litter problem and it seems to be getting worse, despite increased attention on local social media.

Heavy rains can be mistaken for help if it washes some away, usually down into the harbour and out to sea. The Sea Turtle Conservancy (conserveturtles.org) estimates that 1 million marine animals, including sharks, whales, fish, turtles and birds, are killed every year by plastic that ends up in the ocean.

There are even public trash bins around town to help alleviate the problem, some in areas that consistently seem to have large amounts of litter. One such area is Hopedale Avenue near the new municipal depot. The brightly coloured trash can doesn’t spoil the view, but all along the street and especially where it ends at a circular turnaround, there are used food containers, Tim Horton’s cups and cigarette butts blowing around in the wind.

“Near the new municipal garage litter is horrible despite efforts to keep it clean,” agreed Mayor John Spencer via e-mail. “Hopefully the camera system will deter (littering) once in place.”

Even with a camera system in place, however, litter bylaws are not among those the Channel-Port aux Basques detachment of the RCMP usually enforces. Cpl. Colin Helm says that unless someone witnesses a littering incident or even illegal dumping and reports it, or if a member of the detachment observes it while on patrol, there’s not much the RCMP can do to help.

“That is always the Catch 22,” writes Spencer. “Why have a bylaw if there is no enforcement?”

The RCMP does help enforce some of the town bylaws, usually those related to speeding or noise complaints during quiet hours. Spencer says the detachment is excellent when it comes to helping out with snow clearing violations.

“It is similar with roaming animals. The Town does have a part time enforcement officer. However, in relation to litter or failure to pick up after a pet it gets a little trickier,” admits Spencer.

Part of the problem may stem from the new tipping fees. Before the new provincial waste management plan was put in place, a trip to the dump to drop off extra garbage or larger items was free. Now it can cost money and, even if the charge is relatively small, some residents seem inclined to avoid it. That only serves to further compound the town’s problem because all of this litter is helping to attract rats.

“You will notice Town removed the litter box from Scott’s Cove,” noted Spencer in his letter. “Issue of rodents feeding on indiscriminate dumping.”

Removing the garbage box might have stopped the dumping but it has hardly helped serve the area’s overall attractiveness. Scott’s Cove, with its brightly painted kiosks and scenic boardwalk, now has an increase in litter that gets trapped along the path before settling into the rocks below or ending up in the harbour.

The Town Council and Public Works are currently researching ways to help combat the increased number of rats, and part of that will have to include cutting off the food supply. But even if upgraded trash cans, such as the heavy plastic ones used by larger municipalities like St. John’s are installed, it seems unlikely to help combat the rat problem if people continue to litter.

Writes Spencer, “(There is) No magic formula except try to do our best to get individuals to change behaviour.”

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