CORNER BROOK — Rats could be a problem, if handled inappropriately, when closing out a landfill, according to Don Downer.
Those could be of the rodent variety, who live off the consumable waste discarded at the sites, but also the human variety, a classification which could be given to those who illegally dump garbage in backroads and woods throughout the province.
There have been complaints in central Newfoundland of an increased presence of bears in populated areas since the closure of the 42 small landfill sites in the region. The belief is, due to the elimination of the waste, the animals have been looking for new food sources. The same could be true for rats, cats and other animals.
The chair of the Western Regional Waste Management Committee, says there has been no such complaints made in this area, where the start of closure for 10 landfill sites has begun. However, he is aware of local concern and expects it may be an issue as the process moves further along.
"They haven't even been talking about cats leaving the site, or rats," Downer said. "Part of the reason is we are still in the early stages of closeout for some of those sites. The animals really don't know the difference at this stage. They are still there and the waste is still there from previous deposits. They haven't yet run out of food."
There will be 22 landfills closed in western Newfoundland by 2016. Downer said it is the responsibility of communities who have these dumps within their jurisdiction to deal with any pests that could become problematic to the nearby populations. That is the message Downer has passed along to communities in Trout River, Howley and Lomond, where those sites are hoped to be closed by the end of 2012.
Although many of the sites are small and far removed from habited areas, Downer said there could be reason for concern.
Municipalities would be obligated, according to the chair, to bring in pest control to deal with rodents, contact the SPCA or another relevant organization for assistance in dealing with stray cats or dogs, and contact the provincial department responsible for wildlife for such animals as bears.
Meanwhile, Downer said illegal dumping, a problem which has been rampant throughout the province for years, is more of an immediate concern.
"We are aware that once you close out those sites, and you require people to bring material such as construction and demolition (to other locations), it could become an issue," he said.
He said this is an environmental issue, which he hopes people will learn to better protect their natural surroundings, and a legal issue, whereby municipalities have begun charging people caught doing this.
"Education and the law, that is what is going to defeat the problem," he said. "It will be treated, 10 years from now, the same as poaching on a river. There was a time people felt it was their right to take a salmon whenever they wanted. It is a different issue now."