Bureaucracy halts couple’s clean-up

A BUREAUCRATIC stand-off means a couple of local good Samaritans have been threatened with a police fine if they continue to pick up rubbish in public places.

The couple, Christy Whatson, a Canadian-born 28-year-old and her Sydney-raised partner, James, who’s 27 recently moved to the Derwent.

Valley and have begun to establish roots as a young family, being joined very recently by Octavia, now 21 weeks old.

Ms Whatson said New Norfolk won the national Tidy Towns award in 2010 – testament to the town’s civic pride.

“But honestly, we’ve found other neighbourhoods and elsewhere in the Valley, places are dirty,” she said.

“People are leaving their rubbish just anywhere.

“So we thought: We can do something about this.

“They do it in Bridgewater and in Glenorchy, along the Brooker Highway, and we can do it here.

“This is about having pride in your neighbourhood, pride in your community. So, we got to work, cleaned up around the library in town, around McDonalds.”

They also found a huge dump pile on Cockerills Road, part of the Norske Skog property.

“It took 70 large rubbish bags to clean up,” she says, “and that’s before we got to the sheets of plexiglass, larger unbaggable stuff.

“This Boyer site has clearly been used as a local dump for years.

“Some of that litter had been there since 2011, according to the use-by dates on some of the rubbish.”

 At this point, Ms Whatson emailed Derwent Valley Council and asked for some guidance on how to dump what they’d collected.

That’s when bureaucratic issues began.

“Initially we got encouraging emails back,” she says.

Email correspondence between Ms Whatson and the council shows a suggestion their cleanup effort could be implemented through an established Tidy Towns process.

When Ms Whatson emailed back that she preferred to work independently – to suit her online business and baby-raising – council emailed back agreeing she could work independently and asked that she let them know where she was going to leave the bags.

The email read: “You can be independent Tiny Towns (as emailed) was just a suggestion. In the case you choose to go independent, the best option would be to leave the bags at a location, email us a photo of the bags and the location that the workers could collect.’’

“We did that, via email. Next thing we know, the police are here at the house, telling us we’re facing a large fine for illegally dumping rubbish,’’ she said.

“Yet, we’d put the bags as instructed by email by Derwent Valley Council.  

“This was just dumb. We’re not dumping rubbish, but collecting it so it can be dumped.”

She points out what she’s collecting cannot be put into public bins: there’s too much of it, and council bins are not designed for that purpose; the access is too small.

“So we tried the next best thing. We emailed the council again, this time suggesting they  provide us with a ‘tip pass’ so that we could take the collected junk bags direct to the refuse site at Peppermint Hill.”

Council, this time via the Mayor, again pushed the couple towards the Tidy Towns organisation.

“We request you join Tidy Towns, which has the necessary insurances and mechanisms to do this kind of work,” is what they were told.

“With all due respect to Tidy Towns – they are good people and do good work – we want to do this cleanup work in our time and our way,’’ Ms Whatson said.

“Frankly, the amount of rubbish out there in the Valley tells us the way it’s been done in the past doesn’t work very well,’’ she said. “So a fresh approach, that supplements that done by Tidy Towns, ought to be considered.”

She said she’s got more than 200 people following her Facebook postings on the subject.

“We’ve already got people volunteering their time and their vehicles, so clearly there’s a community desire out there to help clean up.”

She said she and James had insurance, as well as high-vis gear and the tools for the job.

“What is the council afraid of?” she asked

“What’s wrong with individuals or groups of people doing the necessary work around the Valley.

“The only risk is that we might win another award for making the place clean.”