Cabin owners frustrated with ‘unnecessary’ garbage collection fee
Environment minister at odds with service board over fee
David Crawford is frustrated. Crawford, who lives in Torbay, owns a cabin along the Argentia rail bed.
He and many other cabin owners in this part of the province are upset with what they feel are unfair fees.
Crawford’s cabin is located in the region where waste disposal is handled by Eastern Regional Service Board (ERSB). The board’s jurisdiction covers St. John’s to Clarenville, and as far as Burgoyne’s Cove in the east and Swift Current to the west.
The ERSB charges households, including cabin owners, $180 annually for waste collection.
Crawford and other cabin owners say it’s not fair for them to have to pay $180 a year for garbage collection since they don’t get weekly pickup.
In fact, he says, most of them don’t require garbage collection at all since the practice of cabin owners is to bring their garbage back with them after a weekend at the cabin and add it to their usual household garbage at their full-time residences for pickup. And they are already paying $180 annually for that service in their municipalities.
“We don’t need garbage pickup. We never asked for it. It was forced upon us,” Crawford told the Packet.
“Cabins are a Newfoundland tradition, as is peas pudding, mummering, et cetera. You go to your cabin in the woods, peace and quiet, you take [trash] in, you take [trash] home.”
Besides, Crawford says, many cabins are located on unserviced roads and forest access roads that are not maintained by government, making winter collection sometimes impossible.
If cabin owners leave their garbage at their cabins for pickup, he said, it might not be collected for days, leaving it vulnerable to scavengers and creating a mess.
For cabins on unserviced roads, Crawford says there should be absolutely no fee charged.
“ERSB should stay off any unserviced road or access (road), so the fee should be zero. If you have a cabin that is on a road maintained by the government, then yes, you should be charged at the minimal rate.”
“It’s just ridiculous,” adds Crawford. “You don’t charge a camper to go camping every weekend.”
To help bring awareness to the issue, Crawford create the Cabin Owners against the Trash Tax (COATT) Facebook group, which now has over 1,700 members.
Since they began a concerted lobby effort seeking changes to the garbage collection fees, the cabin owners have made some progress.
Clarification of Act
They caught the attention of Eddie Joyce, minister responsible for environment, who offered some clarification of the legislation governing waste collection in the province.
In a Jan. 29 press release, the minister explained the Act in question is the Regional Service Board Act, 2012.
Under that Act, he said, “the boards have the authority to set fees to offset the expenses of delivering waste management services.”
This means service boards can choose to decrease waste collection costs for seasonal owners.
“For example, the Burin Peninsula Regional Service Board charges 50 per cent lower fees for seasonal cabin owners; and the Northern Peninsula Regional Service Board charges 32 per cent lower waste collection fees for seasonal cabin owners,” the press release reads.
So far this year minister Joyce has met with Ed Grant, chair of ERSB, on a couple of occasions to discuss cabin owners’ concerns.
Joyce told the Packet last week a recent meeting was both very “respectful,” but also very frank.
“What we agreed to at the time was that the service board would seek some information, and we as a government would seek some information, on the authority of the Act, to see if they have the authority of the Act to change some of the rules they have in place,” Joyce said.
Following that meeting, the department issued a press release on Feb. 14 countering the claim made by ERSB that it could not reduce fees, and that other regional service boards that had done so were in violation of the legislation.
“The provincial government has determined that this is incorrect, and we can confirm there is nothing in the legislation to prohibit regional service boards from defraying expenses through the assessment of differential fees within categories of service users,” the release states. “The manner in which the services are being provided and by which the costs are defrayed is based on the direction of the board.”
ERSB chair Ed Grant could not be reached for comment by deadline, but a spokesperson for the board directed the Packet to www.fairwaste.ca, where a rationale for the service fee is outlined under the header “Why does ERSB have on fee for all properties?”
On that site the ERSB also claims reducing service fees for cabin owners would increase fees for other property owners.
Crawford and other cabin owners continue to lobby government and the ERSB for change.
In a Feb. 19 letter, COATT group member Brett Wareham wrote to St. John’s City councillor Danny Breen, who is a director on the ERSB.
In that letter, Wareham suggested that ERSB undertake a mail-out survey to all those currently invoiced for the $180-service fee to determine whether the fee should be modified or abolished and that, pending completion and analysis of the survey, waste collection, along with the fee, be placed on hold.
Wareham continues to note that should those two recommendations not be undertaken, ERSB ought to consider implementing a revised game plan, which would see the current service abolished, creation of environmentally friendly garbage drop-off sites if required, and consultations held with permanent cabin residences to determine who might be interested in a collection service.
Wareham notes that cabin owners themselves would be required to protect this plan by policing their respective areas and reporting those who do not adhere to proper rules and regulations.