Winnipeg Free Press - PRINT EDITION

Garbage loopholes are trash

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It's 4:45 a.m. A truck crashes and crunches outside. One of my twin toddlers screams. Again, a Dumpster is emptied in my neighbourhood, waking everyone up.

When we moved here, we knew nothing about livability bylaws. We chose our house in part because it was near to Corydon so we could walk to restaurants and shops.

The city's bylaws say that "individuals" cannot make this sort of noise during "quiet hours" from 9 p.m. to 7 a.m. But it turns out if the city empties the Dumpster, it doesn't have to follow the bylaws. In fact, the bylaws say the noise restrictions don't apply to "an activity, work or undertaking performed by and through the City in respect of (sic) public services, facilities or installations."

There are other waste0management companies responsible for "private Dumpsters," for some businesses and apartment buildings. These companies are, in theory, obligated to observe quiet hours.

But I've had many interactions with one of these companies. The company say it's hard to empty Dumpsters during business hours, with full parking lots and busy traffic. It apologizes and tells its drivers not to do this. After a year of polite complaints, I realize their apologies mean little. Even though there are bylaws, the city doesn't enforce them.

Noise isn't the only issue. I recently found downed lines everywhere in my yard. The wires wrapped around siding yanked off of our house. They straddled our grill, blocked the shed, and made getting a car into the back lane nearly impossible.

After a quick first response from Manitoba Hydro, there were hours of phone calls and emails. The only change, however, was that someone hitched wires to my fence to make the back lane passable.

Eventually, I learned a garbage truck ripped down the wires, pulling off 12 feet of siding from the house. This happened overnight, but no one told me. Since no one left a note, gave me a call, or knocked on my door, this incident was the equivalent of a hit and run.

Meanwhile, I needed to keep my household safe. No one could use the backyard until I knew which lines were live.

This happened the week before Canada Day. The city's response was that the waste and water department would inspect within five business days, that I should not move anything unless it was dangerous, and that a claim form would be sent. The form mentions a seven-day deadline, as well as requiring two estimates for repair. The message was "you're making us pay for something the city didn't do."

Despite immediately contacting Hydro, MTS, Shaw and the city, the repairs weren't swift. After two days, I flagged down an MTS repair truck. Although the man wasn't sent to our address, he was concerned and helped us on his own initiative. He offered information as he worked.

The new garbage trucks are tall, much taller than the old ones. When these trucks were purchased, Shaw and MTS were asked to raise their lines. Obviously, they refused to spend millions of dollars, suggesting the city purchase shorter trucks. No such luck. Trucks are ripping down lines across the city.

Meanwhile, Shaw couldn't fix their lines, which were live and connected my home to phone, Internet and cable, for five days. The backyard remained off limits.

When I called our handyman for an estimate, he said his garage was damaged, too.

The solution seems obvious. If the city wants to raise revenue, it should fine people who break bylaws or destroy property at night. If the city considers this silly, those of us who are affected could complain until somebody hears us. Maybe we should stand beneath our city's leaders' windows before dawn (after the Dumpsters wake us) and let them know what's wrong.

It's time for the city and its contractors to take some practical responsibility. I'm sure they wouldn't want to deal with this at their homes. Why is our time less valuable?

Joanne Seiff, author of Fiber Gathering and Knit Green, lives in Winnipeg with her husband, twin sons and two bird dogs.

Republished from the Winnipeg Free Press print edition July 6, 2013 A15

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