Committee 'disappointed' after Halifax council votes to make major changes at Otter Lake landfill
The chair of a community monitoring committee says his committee and several local residents are “disappointed” after Halifax regional council voted to initiate big and controversial changes at the Otter Lake landfill in Timberlea.
After a lengthy debate, the majority of council voted in favour of a staff recommendation Tuesday to submit a joint application with Mirror Nova Scotia to the province to put the front-end processor (FEP) and waste stabilization facility (WSF) at the landfill on pause indefinitely.
The recommendation included a few conditions, including one that the FEP/WSF be maintained in “standby mode,” meaning the equipment can be put back into operation at any point, should council decide that would be best.
Another condition is that industrial, commercial and institutional waste (ICI) continue to be processed through the transfer station at the Otter Lake landfill and exported to other licensed landfills outside of Halifax Regional Municipality.
“We’re very disappointed,” said Scott Guthrie, chair of the Otter Lake community monitoring committee (CMC), the local watchdog that oversees the Otter Lake landfill.
“The truth is, if this is allowed to go forward, no one knows what the next stage of this science experiment is going to do. We don’t know what the outcome is going to be.”
The Otter Lake landfill was first commissioned in 1999 and included the FEP/WSF.
The FEP is used to sort and separate organic materials and recyclables from garbage bags sent to the landfill, while the WSF is used to handle the organic waste in a composting process prior to landfilling.
The original aim of the FEP/WSF was to protect the local community, mitigate odours, attraction of birds and groundwater quality impairment, according to an HRM staff report.
In the 125-page report, which includes input from three consultants, municipal staff suggest that the equipment is no longer needed and that there’s low to medium risk for things such as increased potential for blowing litter at the landfill tip face, attraction of birds and strong odours.
The report also notes that the amount of waste being processed through the equipment and landfilled at Otter Lake has significantly decreased over the years — from more than 134,000 tonnes to roughly 45,000 tonnes a year.
This is thanks to two policy changes — the introduction of HRM’s clear bag program in 2015 and the removal of an export ban that allows ICI waste generated within HRM to be exported to licensed landfills outside the boundaries of the municipality.
Staff say if the equipment isn’t deactivated, Mirror Nova Scotia, which operates the landfill, will likely push for an early termination of its contract with HRM and increase its processing fees from $125 per tonne to $170 per tonne, which could come at an annual cost increase of approximately $2 million.
Andrew Philopoulos, manager of solid waste resources, said the plan is to keep the FEP/WSF deactivated long-term — for a minimum of five years — to gauge whether there are any impacts on surrounding communities and the environment.
“Our focus is to see if we can get the facilities deactivated (and) get to the point where we could demonstrate that we are continuing to operate the facility in an environmentally sound manner and ultimately, the decision as to how long we would maintain the facilities in standby mode would be a decision regional council would make at a later date,” he explained.
But Guthrie said the move would go against the 1999 agreement HRM made with the surrounding communities when they agreed to host the Otter Lake landfill. And he stressed it’s not the first time a recommendation like this has been before council.
“I’m hoping that whatever comes out of this, this is the last time that we’re going to be faced with trying to battle the municipality by taking away the environmental protections that were put in place for the community,” Guthrie said.
“For 20 years, this facility has operated with very little complaints in relation to odours, vectors, scavengers, birds, so what we have today is fundamentally working and this HRM council wants to break that and see what’s going to happen. If this is permitted to proceed and it goes wrong, this council’s legacy will be entrenched in the filth and the stench of this landfill site.”