Volunteer, CUPE trash Campbell River’s no pick up order

City's parks manager asks woman to stop picking up litter in city parks

A well-intentioned citizen who volunteers cleaning up local parks is “frustrated” by a city order to refrain from picking up litter while a CUPE representative “disturbed” he was not consulted on the matter.

Susan Black, who formed the Clean Living beautification group two years ago, received an e-mail about a week ago from the city’s parks, recreation and culture manager, Ross Milnthorp, asking her to stop picking up litter in city parks.

Black is disappointed by the city’s response.

“Personally, I feel frustrated at the idea of restricting any of Campbell River’s good citizens from picking up trash in the parks,” Black said. “The parks belong to the people and the people want clean parks.”

Milnthorp said while the city appreciates the work done by the volunteers, liability and insurance issues do not permit volunteer groups from cleaning up in city-owned park spaces.

“We sincerely appreciate the community-minded efforts from the Clean Living group, and we applaud their dedication to reducing litter along our roadways to keep Campbell River clean and beautiful,” Milnthorp said. “Due to safety concerns, and because our collective agreement with CUPE employees stipulates that we must have mutual agreement on the nature of work to be done by volunteers, we have advised this group that we do not yet have a system in place for volunteers in parks.”

Laurence Amy, vice-president for CUPE Local 401, which represents Campbell River municipal workers, confirmed having volunteer workers in parks does require a mutual agreement with the city, but CUPE was never informed of what was happening.

“We were never approached ever (by the city or Clean Living),” Amy said. “Typically we’ll meet with the users group and make an educated decision from there. We probably would not be against it, but we’ve had issues with them (the city) using volunteers without consulting us in the past. But we probably wouldn’t be against this sort of thing.

“I’m a little disturbed Ross Milnthorp would just blurt out our name without consulting us first.”

Amy said CUPE workers do pick up litter in city parks and figures the city was tipped off to Clean Living’s plans when Black put up a post on Clean Living’s blog announcing her intention to “adopt the Spit” (Dick Murphy Park), which is city property.

Milnthorp approached Black to ask Clean Living to refrain from working in city parks because the volunteers are not insured.

Milnthorp said the city’s hands are tied, but staff are looking into establishing a volunteering program that properly trains volunteers to reduce their chance of injury and which would cover volunteer tasks by city insurance.

“The city is obliged to respect the law, including regulations around safe work and our contracts with employees, and only volunteers organized by the City of Campbell River are covered by the city’s insurance,” Milnthorp said. “While we greatly appreciate the efforts of Clean Living, safety and contract considerations must be factored into our support for their volunteerism.”

In the meantime, Black, who has been cleaning parks as well as local neighbourhoods through her Adopt-a-Block program, said it is unfortunate well-meaning volunteers are being turned away.

“Adopt-a-Block is a humble crew of like-minded volunteers who want their neighbourhood to look its best,” Black said. “The mindset of those who dispose of garbage thoughtlessly, without regard for others, (is to) drop stuff wherever they please, including the parks.

“Adopt-a-Block is not in competition with any other bunch who want to dedicate themselves to the city’s parks. We set out each time to simply pick trash.”

Black adopted the blocks between 4th and 2nd avenues on Dogwood Street (which she will continue to clean) shortly after moving to Campbell River in August, 2010 after six years of traveling through Africa and Asia.

She expected cleaner streets upon her return to Canada but was dismayed to see the amount of litter on her short walk from her home at Madison Apartments (across from Carihi) to Strathcona Gardens.

“What comes to mind is my trip to India, which is one of the dirtiest (countries) in the world,” Black told council in March, 2011. “But when I saw the conditions of the streets here I though ‘oh I’m back in Delhi.’”

Clean Living was started by Black one month after the city told her it didn’t have the manpower to keep on top of all the litter. The group of volunteers gathered at least once a month, picking up garbage in different areas of the city.

After that method became too cumbersome, Black decided to adopt the section of Dogwood which she described as a “treasure trove of garbage, and coffee cups, and chips, and everything.”

A friend later adopted a section of South Dogwood Street, starting at Hilchey Road and traveling north along South Dogwood for 350 metres.

Milnthorp said the city supports the Adopt-a-Block program as well as other, already-organized beautification activities such as those run by Greenways Land Trust or the Communities in Bloom Committee.

Anyone interested in participating in a community clean-up event can call the city parks department at 250-286-7275 for more information.