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Woodland Cemetery bluff gets ‘impressive cleanup’

Story on dumped veterans’ tombstones prompts city to take action

By Richard Leitner, News Staff

A cleanup of city-owned Woodland Cemetery spurred by the discovery of dumped veterans’ tombstones over the edge of a bluff found fragments of another four discarded gravestones, along with a laundry list of other garbage.

Tennessee Propedo, manager of parks and cemeteries, said the new gravestones were crushed as per the protocol for damaged or replaced markers.

“They weren’t veterans’ markers,” he said. “They didn’t have any identifications or dates on them, but they were clearly (grave) stones of some type.”

City staff contracted the cleanup after Hamilton Community News ran stories in April on dumped veteran and civilian tombstones discovered near the bluff’s edge by a reporter and Hamilton Beach activist Jim Howlett during a visit to the west-end cemetery.

The area in question had recently been cleared to make way for more burial plots and Howlett, who is also a Hamilton Conservation Authority director, reported seeing a front-end loader pushing trees and other debris over the edge during a previous visit.

Although the discarded tombstones were immediately cleared from the bluff, at the time Propedo said there were no plans to clean up an extensive amount of other refuse because cemetery staff lacked training to rappel down the slope to do so.

But a subsequent walkabout on Easter weekend with senior staff found the scale of garage was bigger than initially thought, he said when contacted after a June 12 “information update” on the cleanup was sent to city councillors.

“We decided it was an eyesore that needed to be cleaned up,” Propedo said, blaming illegal dumping, including by families visiting gravesites. “We made it a priority.”

According to the information update, the contractor’s haul included propane tanks, metal safes, plastic tables and chairs, truck tires, metal newspaper boxes, a baby crib, a large metal roll of fencing, plastic picnic coolers and Styrofoam pipe wrap.

Cleanup crews also found gravesite debris, like wreaths and plastic flowers and ribbons.

Propedo said during their Easter visit, he and senior staff stopped one neighbour who was preparing to dump yard waste over the bluff.

“It was kind of like we caught the mice in the cheese box,” he said. “To their benefit, they turned around and apologized and walked right back to their house.”

Howlett praised the city for a “pretty impressive” cleanup,” a job he said was made particularly difficult by the steep bluff, which overlooks the western harbour.

He said he expects the city has also made sure its own practices will never again be part of the problem.

“I really enjoyed that there was an appreciation of how dirty it was and that it’s got to stop and we’re not going to delay it for two years. I mean, it got cleaned up right away,” Howlett said.

“That’s when the system really works,” he said. “This is a success story because that was clearly a long, ongoing problem.”

Howlett said he hopes the cleanup also dispels notions that it’s OK to dump yard waste in ravines, when it creates a variety of erosion, flooding and environmental problems, including nitrification of water.

“Literally, the green stuff will kill fish,” he said, adding it makes no sense to dump yard waste when the city provides curbside pickup. “I don’t get that. That’s laziness.”

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