Evan Saugstad: The spring dust is in the air


Spring is coming, but before we can get to the green, we have to get by the mud and dust. Dust and Fort St. John seem inseparable, except for our many, many snowy months. We have dust, and more dust, coming from many sources, and it's particularly noxious during spring breakup.

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Vehicles returning after spending their day on the many gravel roads surrounding our city bring back their fair share of country mud, only to have it dry and fall off onto our streets and driveways. Farmers tilling their fields create their own dust, and on the windy days (and most days do seem windy) it blows into town. And for all those construction sites just west of the city, those muddy lots will soon donate their share of mud and dust via the west winds.

And then there are us who live here. The city spreads sand and gravel over our streets all winter long to keep us safe. Schools, governments, businesses, and not-for-profits all do the same in their own parking lots and sidewalks. Then come this time of year, when we all begin to clean it up, to which, I think, we do a pretty good job.

But, in a few places, we can do much better, and in some cases, with lower costs.

The city does a good job of sweeping streets. Pretty much as soon as things begin to dry out, they are out there cleaning up our streets. They use lots of water, have good sweepers, and pick up most everything that is left on the street. So far, so good. But then along comes us, the property owners.

Guaranteed, in the few days following that first street cleaning, more than a few property owners will decided it's now time to clean their yards. Out with the power-sweeper, and into the street goes all of last year’s dead grass, tree limbs, garbage, dog droppings, and the gravel left from the winter’s snow clearing. So much for a once clean street.

After a few days, or couple weeks, along comes the street sweeper once again to clean it once again. One would like to think this is the end of it, but it isn’t.

Now, the real lazy and out-of-touch landowners who couldn’t get their yards cleaned with everyone else, bring out their power sweepers and deposit their garbage out into the twice-cleaned street. This time, their garbage may or may not see a third round of street sweeping, and may remain there until fall clean-up.

Now, I know, the city plans for street cleaning, and recycles the gravel it has deposited in our yards during snow clearing operations. This is appreciated for the sake of our health and our community.

But really, do we, as taxpayers wish to keep paying for the city to sweep the streets, when the only reason is to clean up the mess caused by lazy landowners throwing their garbage out onto the street? I can agree with one or two cleanings, but three?

How about having bylaw write some tickets and instruct those lazy landowners to clean up their own mess?

Next beef: private parking lots and sidewalks. Some get cleaned and some don’t. Some get cleaned properly, and some don’t. To those who clean up their own mess, and just don’t send it on to the neighbours, good for you. But to the others, shame.

Last spring, I looked outside and couldn’t understand why I could not see my fence on the other side of my yard. The dust storm looked like a January blizzard. I went outside to see what was up, and soon found the culprit. There, about 200 metres away, was the school district’s contractor sweeping the school driveway and sidewalks.

No water, no dust abatement, no gravel pick-up or catcher. Just a power sweeper mounted on the front of a skid-steer throwing all that dry dust and gravel as far off the school property as they could get it. The dust cloud extended 30 to 50 metres into the air, and the wind did the rest, donating all the schools’ garbage to me and my neighbours.

Needless to say, I was pissed, but before I could find a rock to throw back, he was done; no doubt proud of himself as he did the job quickly, cheaply, and saved himself and SD60 a whole lot of money. I did report this to SD60, but never did receive an offer for them to come and clean my house, my garage, and my vehicles.

City of Fort St. John, can you pass or enforce bylaws preventing the use of “dry” power sweepers to clean driveways, parking lots, and sidewalks? Something we surely need to do to prevent the idiots from exploiting common sense rules, and certainly easier on my health. As an aside, a couple years ago I lost my family doctor as her husband could not handle our dusty air, and they moved south.

And now, my complaint as a taxpayer.

How can we allow some of our businesses to create huge snow piles in their parking lots, and then leave them to slowly melt, all-the-while draining out on to our streets where the combination of vehicle traffic driving through water-soaked pavement creates potholes, to which you then use our tax money to repair? Why can’t you make these businesses clean-up or fix their own mess? They can haul their snow away or install drains and keep the water off our streets.

Other than that, I do think the city is doing a good job in managing our community. The few times I have gone online to report a problem, they have all been addressed and fixed.

Simply put, I would rather live without dust, but know that ain’t happening here in Fort St. John, we can try to do better with a little more effort.

Evan Saugstad is a former mayor of Chetwynd, and lives in Fort St. John.  

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