Garbage from homeless camps could end up in Chilliwack River
CHILLIWACK - Local officials are sounding the alarm about what they say is a looming environmental crisis on the Chilliwack River. They say piles of garbage from several homeless camps on an island in the Chilliwack River just east of the Vedder Bridge are in danger of being swept downstream as water levels rise.
"You get two or three feet (of water) and that’s going to be flooded there, and it’s all going to get washed down and into the river and all the way down the system," said Chris Gadsden, founder of the Chilliwack/ Vedder River Cleanup Society. He recently posted a video of a walk-through of the camps that shows piles of clothing, tents, electronics, batteries, and other garbage just feet from the riverbank.
"What needs to happen now is they need to clear it out before the rains hit," said Orion Engar, director of area E with the Fraser Valley Regional District. "If they fail to get in there and get it out then it’s going to wash down the river, probably in November some time. That's a lot of garbage and potentially other things too that we don’t want like needles and stolen equipment, things that would pollute the river environment."
The island has been a popular spot for summertime homeless camps for the past several years. A previous cleanup was so large, it required a helicopter to remove all the garbage left behind.
"We wouldn't mind as much if they were camping and cleaning up after themselves," said Gadsden. "But they always leave a terrible mess for volunteers like us to clean up."
Engar says if the campers kept the area clean, residents would turn a blind eye. "The community has great compassion for people who are truly homeless, but actually moving them on is critical if they're not going take care of the issue surrounding environmental degradation."
The concern is not just about garbage that could potentially wash down river when the water level rises. The people who are camping on the island could become trapped and need rescuing, something that’s happened in previous years. It’s too dangerous for volunteers to cross to the island and attempt a cleanup, so Engar and Gadsden want the province to step in and remove the remaining campers and clear out the trash before it all ends up in the river.
"Outreach staff are attending the camp on a regular basis to offer alternate shelter options and assess the needs of campers," said the Ministry of Municipal Affairs and Housing in a statement to CTV News.
"Clean up of the property will begin once the property is vacated, and the water recedes to a level that allows for the safe removal of garbage. The cleanup will be completed by a contractor hired by the Ministry of Forests, Lands, Natural Resource Operations and Rural Development."
Engar has been told officials will be coming on Friday to see if they can place anyone who is still living there in some sort of accommodation, but he is still worried about the cleanup.
"I don’t think they're going get it in time, and that's the frustrating thing," he said. "If that stuff gets washed downstream, not good."