Whistler Waste - SLRD surprised by composting plant offer

(By Cindy Filipenko) - Squamish-Lillooet Regional District board members this week expressed their discomfort with a RMOW proposal to purchase Carney’s composting plant to deal with the issue of solid waste in the corridor.

Whistler Mayor Ken Melamed put forward the proposal in the form of a resolution at the SLRD’s Feb. 26 meeting. The proposed resolution stated the municipality “must establish a new bio-solids composting facility by 2007 as part of the obligations associated with the upgrade to the municipal waste water treatment plan.”

The RMOW is seeking support from the SLRD to relocate the composting plant from Squamish to Whistler. That support would come in the form of a cost sharing agreement that would cover both capital and operating expenses of the facility on a proportional user pay system.

The motion came as a shock to SLRD administrator Paul Edgington.

“I was surprised by the suggestion of acquisition of the composting facility independent of the regional district,” said Edgington.

Edgington said that the SLRD had undertaken an analysis of the region’s solid waste management issues and had committed itself to examining re-employing the composting facility as a regional service.

Addressing the proposed motion, Melamed said the proposal had emerged as a result of the regional district’s reluctance to “fully investigate the potential of the facility.”

“We want to make sure that Mr. Carney doesn’t lose his investment and have that investment leave the corridor,” said Melamed.

Last year Carney’s Waste Systems came to the SLRD to announce that after investing its own capital to build the composting plant it could no longer afford to keep the two and a half year old facility going and asked that the regional district buy it.

Carney’s cited unexpected expenses in dealing with odour issues, an insufficient supply of organic material for the plant and the time spent building a market for the final product as contributing to the financial crisis. Owen Carney told Pique in September that the system needs Whistler’s biosolids, which are currently treated and cured at the sewage treatment plant and used for municipal projects.

The composting plant, located in the Squamish Industrial Park, ceased operation on Sept. 1. The SLRD then asked staff for a feasibility study to look at options.

On Monday Melamed characterized Whistler’s proposed acquisition of the plant as “mutually beneficial”.

“Composting is the most desirable way of managing waste,” said Melamed. “Shipping it to Washington (as most communities in the corridor do now) is not in anyone’s best interest in the long run.”

Squamish Mayor Ian Sutherland, who said he was “confused and annoyed,” challenged Melamed over Whistler shipping its waste to Washington, instead of using the Squamish landfill.

Melamed said Whistler would be happy to use the Squamish facility if it was up to provincial environmental standards.

Despite clarification from the Whistler mayor that the composting plant motion was a draft distributed for discussion purposes, many directors chose to focus on the document’s late arrival. The motion was received at the SLRD office on Friday at 5:25 p.m. Some directors did not receive the document until 24 hours later.

“I have a problem with the process and timeline. Is it reasonable to say this was decided before 5:24 on Friday?” asked Sutherland, who called the process “backasswards.”

Other directors expressed frustration that by tabling the motion, Whistler was essentially circumnavigating the process that was in place.

“Whistler was at the table when we agreed on a feasibility study,” said Area C Director Susie Gimse. “The suggestion was to explore all the options — yet Whistler has already made a decision. We’re being asked to contribute to capital and operational costs before we know what they are.”

Melamed acknowledged Gimse’s concerns.

“This has been challenging for all of us,” said the Whistler mayor. “It was a difficult sequence of events. I thought everyone would be happy that Whistler had a way to go ahead and move it forward.”

He said what the RMOW was looking for at this point was support in principle from the other members of the SLRD board of directors.

“If we don’t get support on the capital side, the operational side will go higher,” said Melamed. “The high-cost of dealing with bio-solids makes this plan feasible.”

Area D director John Turner agreed with the motion in principle but expressed concerns over the cost of the facility.

“Capital costs for this could be in excess of $3 million, which is a big consideration for any taxpayer.”

Acquisition and relocation of the composting facility is estimated to be under $5 million.

The RMOW’s proposed motion will be on the table again at the March SLRD board meeting.

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