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Provincial government creates abandoned-camp cleanup fund for Chilliwack River Valley

$200K will go to FVRD fund to cover tipping fees for garbage, removing vehicles, garbage bin rentals
Volunteers haul trash up a steep incline from a Sweltzer Creek homeless camp under the Vedder River bridge on Jan. 29, 2023. (Streams Foundations Canada)

The provincial government announced $200,000 in new funding on Wednesday (March 8) to assist with cleanups of abandoned homeless camps in the Chilliwack River Valley.

Several volunteer-led cleanups in recent months effectively removed thousands of pounds of abandoned belongings, stolen items, and hazardous materials off the riparian zones of the Chilliwack-Vedder river system. Volunteers have been calling on the province, and federal officials to help them with funding the cleanups.

“We’re investing in this cleanup to ensure that the sensitive environmental areas of the Chilliwack River shores are kept in a natural state and that there is no litter or waste for the high waters of spring runoff to pick up,” said Kelli Paddon, MLA for Chilliwack-Kent. “We appreciate the local efforts of volunteer groups who have been a great asset in keeping these areas clean, but we know we need to do more.”

The $200,000 will go to the Fraser Valley Regional District (FVRD) to create a fund to cover tipping fees for garbage, removal of vehicles or garbage bin rentals.

Chilliwack resident Ross Aikenhead until recently was one of the volunteers spearheading homeless camp cleanups. He quietly hauled trash out of the bush for 15 years, including helping clear out the area where they took 6,000 kilograms of trash off the riverbed on Sweltzer Creek on the Chilliwack River.

RELATED: Volunteer says he won’t undertake cleanups anymore

“It’s a step in the right direction,” Aikenhead said upon learning about the $200,000 just announced for abandoned camps. “But unless they are going to enforce existing laws and stop these encampments from setting up, it’s never going to end.”

The law states squatters have to leave the area of Crown land after 14 days but Aikenhead said there’s been a trailer up by Slesse Creek for seven years.

The fact that encampments - and the debris left behind - pose a risk to salmon habitat is not lost on the housing minister.

“We know this is an especially sensitive area along the Chilliwack River, a salmon habitat, and we’re taking action to limit the risks of garbage and discarded belongings leaching into the ground or being swept away in the river,” said B.C. Housing Minister Ravi Kahlon. “We are taking action to find permanent housing options for people in need in Chilliwack and to ensure these natural areas remain intact and can be enjoyed by all.”

The issue of camps in the Chilliwack River Valley has been a vexing, complex challenge for many years, and the provincial release acknowledged it “requires a multi-agency approach” to be effective and stop the issue from “being moved elsewhere.”

RELATED: Thousands of pounds of garbage hauled up steep hill

There have been regular meetings between volunteers, the provincial ministry reps, local government and First Nations reps, to try to find long-term solutions to this ongoing issue.

“I am pleased to see collaboration in action after productive meetings with Minister Kahlon, MLA Paddon, FVRD chair Jason Lum and myself,” said Patti MacAhonic, FVRD electoral area E director. “The enthusiasm behind volunteers who dedicated endless hours to the cleanup of Crown land is praiseworthy. The FVRD appreciates this funding, it will make a real difference in the challenges we face for Crown land in our rural communities.”

The B.C. government takes the protection of human health and the environment seriously. To report illegal dumping or environmental violations call the Report All Poachers and Polluters (RAPP) line at 1-877-952-7277.

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Jennifer Feinberg

About the Author: Jennifer Feinberg

I have been a Chilliwack Progress reporter for 20+ years, covering the arts, city hall, as well as Indigenous, and climate change stories.
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