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Letter: Urgent need for roadside cleanup reform

Highlighting a pressing issue with the Yukon government's spring roadside cleanup program
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I am writing to highlight a pressing issue with the Yukon government's spring roadside cleanup program, which is entirely dependent on volunteers from the broader community. Despite the Yukon government (YG) comprising nearly 50 per cent of the workforce in the Yukon, the responsibility to clean up the roadsides falls on individuals outside YG's Highways and Public Works department.

To make matters more difficult, volunteers can’t just be any group; they must be part of an organization registered with the Yukon Corporate Online Registry and be in good standing. The group needs to have a minimum of five people and must provide their own vehicle. For their efforts, they receive $300 per section but must also handle the garbage drop-off and then invoice YG for their work.

Every day, I drive past a section of road that looks like it belongs in a third-world country. The garbage is immense, and it is both frustrating and sad to see. The section I am particularly focused on is "Section 110" of the Alaska Highway between kilometre 1426.7 to 1428.3, from Manitoulin entrance to Fish Lake Road. This stretch has accumulated a high volume of waste due to its proximity to the dump. Waste such as boxes and plastics often flies off trucks or is blown down from the dump. We pride ourselves on being "the Wilderness City," yet the area feels more like "Dumptown."

The Highways department acknowledged this as a problem area, stating that no group volunteered to clean it last year. Consequently, we now face two years' worth of accumulated garbage. This year, a church group was assigned the section; however, their intent was to clean up a safer section with children to raise money for the renewal of their kids’ section in the church.

Given the assigned stretch of highway and the dangers involved — high traffic, narrow shoulders and poor visibility — the group leader decided it was not safe to involve young people and is struggling to find five adults to clean up that section. After speaking with the group leader, I learned she has not yet found a group of five. As a concerned and proactive citizen, I plan to go out myself this weekend (as others have done) to clean up, just to get it done. My partner would like to help as well; however, we have a 19-month-old child, and we cannot have them on the side of the road. This means only one of us can go at a time.

Despite shortening the section, the cleanup remains a daunting task. Expecting a group to clean such a hazardous and extensive area for $300 is unreasonable. If no group volunteers again, the garbage will remain for yet another year, worsening the pollution.

The environmental impact is severe. Waste, plastics and chemicals are making their way into McIntyre Creek, attracting wildlife to the roads and posing a hazard to motorists. Additionally, the social implications of litter are significant. When public spaces are neglected, it leads to a bleed-through effect where respect for the environment and wildlife diminishes. This neglect can contribute to a broader disregard for the community's well-being and natural beauty.

With spring in full swing, if action isn't taken soon, the garbage will be hidden by growing vegetation, making it inaccessible until next spring. By then, we will face three years of accumulated waste.

Isn't garbage and roadside cleanup one of the basic tasks of the government? Shouldn't this problem be addressed, especially with the growing number of residents in the territory? The social implications of neglecting public spaces — mental and physical deterioration — are well-known. Are we teaching locals, children and newcomers that this neglect is acceptable? That we don't care?

Immediate reform is essential. The government should take direct responsibility for such critical cleanups, particularly in high-risk and high-impact areas. Relying on volunteers is neither sustainable nor safe for such challenging tasks. We must address this issue now to preserve our environment and ensure the safety and cleanliness of our roads.

Julia Heiroth