‘There needs to be consequences’: Tofino slapping beach scofflaws with $200 fines

Tofino is struggling to deal with a wave of unexpected COVID-19 tourism that’s led to challenges unlike any the resort destination has ever seen.

The west coast community’s normally unblemished beaches are taking a beating from campers and partiers who are leaving piles of garbage behind — forcing the district to crack down on the bad behaviour.

“It is disrespectful,” said Tofino mayor Josie Osborne, Saturday.

“What we’re not used to is this volume of trash.”

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Tofino was already seeing an approximately 30 per cent increase in its garbage can trash volume due to the packaging from takeout orders during the pandemic.

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“It’s really disturbing to see the way some people are choosing to leave behind the evidence of their presence here,” Osborne said.

Residents are finding smoldering beach fires, discarded cigarette butts, bags of trash and even human waste, on area beaches.

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Today marks two weeks since #tofinotourismawareness first posted. Social media provided a platform to show the devastating impacts resulting from over-tourism, as well as our District and councils silence to address the numerous concerns my many. Yesterday the DoT broke their silence. Until yesterday there had been no public mention or action all summer from the @districtoftofino in regards to the numerous concerns residents and business owners have brought forth. The countless pleas for help to address safety concerns, impacts on quality of life, and countless bylaw infractions went unaddressed. Although sad and frustrating that it had to come to a very loud collective message via social media, letters, and petitions for Tofino’s Mayor and council to address these concerns, there is now public accountability. (Pls refer to the DoT website or Instagram account for their proposed Action). With over 500 #tofinowarrior supporters, we can hopefully feel good that our collective efforts to #helpsavetofino have resulted in some verbal change. Let’s see if these words result in action. Let the fines $$ start flying! 📞📞📞To report illegal parking, camping, littering or other bylaw infractions, please call Tofino Bylaw Enforcement at: #250-266-1674

A post shared by Tofino Tourism Awareness (@tofinotourismawareness) on

Tofino was seeing an unusually quiet summer until Phase 3 of the province’s Restart Plan launched in late June, bringing what the district describes as a “huge influx of tourists and a corresponding increase in problems we have not seen to this degree in the past.”

Many people arrived without reservations and decided to park their vehicles and camp when they couldn’t find accommodations, leading to an unprecedented parking situation alongside the main highway and in beach parking lots, the district said.

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“Then when nature calls, unfortunately they make a choice that means using the outdoors and it’s just not acceptable.”

Fed up with a perceived lack of enforcement at recent beach fires attended by up to 100 people and on more than one kilometre of parking on the Pacific Rim Highway, local developer Chris Lefevre is calling for immediate action on what he considers COVID dangers.

In an Aug. 19 letter to the district of Tofino, Lefevre, who owns Middle Beach Lodge, Cox Bay Beach Resort and Bella Pacifica Campground, states that due to intense overcrowding in those locations, he fears the “potential for COVID exposure and expansion.”

Tofino says its bylaw officers and public works employees are working overtime amid staff shortages to handle numerous issues including excessive garbage and litter and large numbers of people camping illegally.

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“We know we are under resourced this summer for the kind of volumes that we are seeing,” Osborne told Global News.

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When dealing with the financial impacts of the initial lock down in March, the district decided to reduce costs after consulting with taxpayers. As a result, Tofino stuck with its two bylaw officers instead of hiring two temporary summer positions.

Since July, the bylaw duo has been busy engaging in zero tolerance bylaw enforcement. Gone are the warnings: anyone caught camping illegally is now issued an immediate $200 fine.

“Unfortunately you just come across some folks who choose not to follow the rules,” said Osborne.

“And there needs to be consequences.”

The district says Tofino RCMP are also around to police late night calls and alcohol-related infractions.

Read more: ‘Please stay away’: B.C. tourist towns urge outsiders to stay home under COVID-19

Osborne told Global News that fines must be commensurate with the offence and Tofino’s fine structure will be revisited this fall as it prepares for next summer.

For now, the community and Surfrider Foundation Pacific Rim are organizing clean-ups to reclaim the pristine sand that’s been scarred by pandemic scofflaws.

Future visitors are urged to leave no trace by packing out what they pack in. Planning ahead for accommodations is also recommended — even if you’re pitching a tent at a local campground.

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“You have to have a reservation before you come to the west coast,” said Osborne.

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