Len McGinnis has spent years cleaning up a property in Porter Creek, beginning back before he had any claim to the land.
During his first attempt in 2008, the lot on Lodgepoole Lane was so full of derelict buildings, rundown cars and parts, that he estimates he took away more than 225 tonnes of debris in a bid to clean it up.
But the mess began to accumulate again because of other people living on the property at the time, he says.
Instead of getting paid for his clean-up work, McGinnis had his name added to the title for the property in 2013.
Now it’s just him and his family there and he insists the land will be clean for good by spring.
“What’s left on the property is minimal, comparatively,” he said. “As soon as the snow’s gone, I’ve got a crew coming in and it will be (taken) out. The buildings will be boarded up that aren’t being used.”
Driving past the property, there are still a few shells of cars out front along with some unmarked barrels.
This time around, McGinnis doesn’t know the weight of everything he’s removed, but says more than a dozen large disposal containers’ worth of stuff has been taken away.
“Every time I make a dollar I spend two (cleaning),” he said.
That kind of mess attracts attention.
After all this time, the owner of the neighbouring property is angry with the City of Whitehorse for not stepping in to force a cleanup of the property.
Meanwhile McGinnis has been getting progressively larger fines, which he says he cannot afford to pay, because the land still is not compliant with the city’s maintenance bylaw.
City officials say they’ll keep fining him, but they’re willing to work with him until the mess is cleaned up.
Shahram Kazemi owns the lot next to McGinnis’s property.
He has a stack of papers detailing his ongoing correspondence with the city to try and get them to tidy up his neighbour’s lot.
Kazemi says he’s spent close to $100,000 to clear his own lot, and has put in a septic system and electricity.
He plans to start building on the land, and then sell the homes, as soon as the weather improves.
“My biggest issue is, I’m building a house right next to Len’s property. As soon as I sell I’m sure they want to get some document from me that says this land is not contaminated. How can I assure them?”
Kazemi said he’s worried that oil or other chemicals could contaminate both his own land and Porter Creek, which runs behind the property.
Whitehorse’s manager of bylaw services, Dave Pruden, said officials have been to McGinnis’s property and didn’t find anything that was a risk to the creek.
“We went out there with Environment Yukon. Our concern was, ‘Is there anything on the property that’s an environmental concern? Is there any way that the stuff on there is leaching into the creek that is adjacent to the property?’” he said.
“There was nothing that they told us was an environmental concern there. There was no evidence to suggest that anything was leaching to the creek.”
If contamination were going to spread, it would go downhill to the creek, not across to Kazemi’s property, Pruden said.
“There wasn’t anything like a great big spill that leached onto his property because of sheer splash on the ground that flowed over horizontally.”
A spokesperson for Environment Yukon confirmed that since 2008 the spill line has received three complaints related to the property — in May 2008, June 2011 and April 2016. The department won’t say who called the line.
In one case a vehicle being stored across the street, on city property, was leaking a little.
“Environment has no information indicating any threat to the creek related to the complaints received since 2008,” the spokesperson said.
In 2014 there was some talk about possible asbestos on the property, but both McGinnis and Pruden say that is not a problem as long as it’s contained.
Kazemi doesn’t seem convinced. He says if he ends up finding contamination on his property he would blame the city.
McGinnis said there’s nothing on his property that would be a risk to his neighbour’s property or the creek.
“What is a concern to those elements is the contamination that is already there caused by the city dump and it has been that way for years. It’s public record.”
The city does have the authority, under its maintenance bylaw, to clean up McGinnis’s property and then bill him for the work.
But Pruden says that’s not something they’re prepared to do just yet.
“Here’s the other news story, ‘city goes in, cleans property, it costs $40,000, charges it to property owner, property owner loses property to city,’” he said.
“Do we want to work with the property owner or do we want to take his property away from him?”
While McGinnis continues to clean, the city has been taking him to court. He received a $100 fine in 2013 and 2014. In early 2016 he was fined $400 and in November he was fined $800.
“I’ve been with bylaw for 23 years. That $800 is the biggest fine I’ve seen the courts issue for a bylaw (charge),” Pruden said. “If he doesn’t come into compliance we’ll be seeking higher than $800.”
None of those fines has been paid. McGinnis says he is spending his money on living and cleaning.
He said the city has agreed to work with him to come up with ways to pay them off. Meanwhile he’ll keep cleaning.
“What’s left, and from what I’ve done, is really nothing. So they gave me this one last chance to comply, and when I comply it will be over.”
Contact Ashley Joannou at firstname.lastname@example.org