Wednesday, December 13, 2006

Guest Blogger - Dan Ficken on working the Grand

I had a summer job nearly four years ago at the Geo Centre and, well, there was a lot of garbage back there - but there's a good story that goes along with it.

Myself and a few others were hired by an outside group to work with (not for) the Geo Centre and the Grand Concourse to do some small unobstructive trail marking around the outside perimeter of the building and we were asked to make a brochure outlining certain stops that had geological significance. We also helped build those steps in the outdoor classroom and the path along the roof, and among other things, picking up the garbage, etc.

The existing trails were only marked with red ribbon so people could find them easier when doing the outdoor geotour. There was no impact because we took photographs of the geological features and added them in the brochure, so really all anyone had to do to learn about what was out there was walk along the trails that already existed and take the brochure along with them. It was that simple and non-invasive. And it really only included about 0.01% of the total "geoproperty". We had heard rumors that there were bigger plans for the area, but from our experience with working with the Concourse (not an easy bunch to communicate with or get any sort of idea of what was going on or what we were really supposed to be doing there for most of the summer), it seemed like nothing would ever get done so we didn't take them seriously. In fact, before we started the trail marking they asked us to clean up the glass on a rock outcrop behind the building. There was literally tonnes of broken glass built up below this boulder from decades of kids throwing bottles at it in and before the 1940's, apparently. We removed the glass about a foot deep in some places and we were asked to store it all in boxes, but the way things worked we were not allowed to store it anywhere, they used to get mad at us for all these boxes of broken glass lying around. So we were fed up and then it rained heavy one day and about the same amount of glass became re-exposed in the same spot under the boulder when some newly exposed dirt washed away. We were appointed again to the job of picking up the glass, and we were facing the same situation with being asked to store it for no apparent reason but not really being allowed to store it anywhere.

So we chucked half the boxes in the dumpster in the back, a big job in itself. We got in a lot of trouble when they finally told us they wanted to make an archaeological exhibit out of it. I'm sure they had more than enough left over to make an exhibit, but I don't think they ever did anyway. We then learned about the former squatters' dwellings in that area and we went looking around and found many small foundations of old buildings and of course old garbage.

We even saw the remains of primitive electrical infrastructure, and we kind of guessed that they must have tapped electricity from down the hill and sent it up, probably illegally. We then went to the archives and dug up an old picture, the only public one in existence apparently, of the dwellings on the Geocentre site. We had a hard time even convincing them to let us scan it because it was a fairly restricted picture. We added it to the brochure, which I'm not sure if they ever used. Now, we also noted that there was what appeared to be a garbage dump directly behind the geocentre, and yes there was a LOT of garbage back there. Basically what had happened was when they built the GeoCentre, they essentially drained and excavated part of the bog that was there to put the building in the hole to give it that underground effect. Of course the squatters had thrown all of their garbage in that bog for decades, or who knows how long, and all of the excavations and all the garbage had been piled in behind the building and left there. An archaeological treasure trove for some prospective graduate student perhaps.

But when we saw it, we immediately started asking questions about what seemed to be newly forming leachate going into the fen and when they were going to remove it. And we were given vague answers about the proposed distant future cleanup. But it looks like from what the JFF are now saying that they have cleaned up all the garbage (thus doing everyone a favour). It must have been the garbage that they put there when they dug up the bog, which was well contained in bedrock and well preserved in the acidic conditions before then. Pretty ironic now, I would think, considering they're only now cleaning up their own mess and saying that if it weren't for them, the garbage would still be there. We raised our concerns with the GeoCentre and, well the Grand Concourse was never ever available to talk, but we were met with different opinions and a lot of frustration. We had asked nearly four years ago for them to clean up their mess and they got mad. We, discouraged and defiant, spent the last few weeks of our job picking berries behind the geocentre, which we also got in trouble for I think. Now they're praising their own "good work". I don't get the mentality of these people Alison, but they think they're smart cookies.

All the best, Dan

Dan Ficken lives in St. John's, Newfoundland and is a monitoring practitioner working for Northeast Avalon ACAP .In addition to his strong environmental interests, Dan likes to keep active and plays a mean 12-string guitar.

1 comment:

Michael said...

Dan, all cookies get eaten sooner or later, even 'smart' ones! Interesting post, thanks.