The long road to approval for landfill expansion
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Jan 28, 2015  |  Vote 0    0

The long road to approval for landfill expansion

St. Marys Journal Argus

Stew Slater

St. Marys Journal Argus

“It’s a good news/bad news thing.”

That’s how Town of St. Marys Director of Operations Chad Papple describes the historical fact that the first phase of the St. Marys landfill, opened back in December of 1984, was supposed to last between 15-20 years and ended up being full in half that.

“Yes, it may have been a piece of overly optimistic planning,” Papple said in an interview earlier this week from his Municipal Operations Centre office. “But it also could have happened because there was more industrial activity than initially thought. And we’re still seeing that.”

Earlier this month, Papple informed Town Council that staff is seeking approval from the Ontario Ministry of the Environment and Climate Change (MOE) for an interim license to continue disposing of waste in the currently-in-use Phase 3 cell of the landfill. Phases 2 and 3, which have been active for 23 years (and, like their predecessor, were originally projected to provide between 15-20 years each of capacity) is nearing its legal limit. Papple says the interim approval will hopefully provide between 3-5 years of availability — enough time to complete a required-by-legislation Environmental Assessment (EA) into options for expansion.

Also earlier this month, Papple handed Town Council the projected financial needs for his department for their 2015 budget deliberations. A major element of that document was a projected $441,000 to be spent this coming year on the EA.

Papple admits that, since the revelation was made about applying for interim extension on landfill capacity, he has been hearing comments from the public wondering why the town is only acting now. And he stresses that’s not the case.

Inquiries about what would be needed for landfill expansion actually began years before he was hired, back in 2006. In 2012, when both Papple and the town’s Environmental Coordinator Dave Blake were still relatively new to their roles, it was decided to do whatever possible to get the ball rolling.

“A lot of it is outside the town’s control,” the director of operations noted, adding every step along the way seemed to take longer than Town staff was initially informed by either their engineering consultants or MOE officials. “But I think we’ve done a really good job of pushing this forward since 2012.”

On Dec. 29, 2014, word came that the Terms of Reference for the yet-to-begin EA had been approved. So Papple glances at a flow chart on the wall of his office, and professes confidence that the asked-for $441,000 will indeed be spent in 2015, and that the first of the public open houses seeking input into the expansion proposal will be held this summer, and that an EA will be in the hands of the Town of St. Marys some time in 2016.

Assuming the 3-5 year interim approval is granted by the MOE — and Papple again expresses confidence — the new cell will be ready for use some time in 2018.

The total still-to-be-paid-for cost of the project (not including the already-paid-for Terms of Reference)? “We’re looking at a $2.3 million project. That gets us opened with the new cell, we’ve made some improvement on the property, and we’ve cleaned up the site a bit.”

Handing over a spreadsheet showing revenues and expenses from the past three years from the landfill, Papple explains that “since 2012, we’ve turned things around and we’re starting to make a profit out there (at the landfill). And that’s revenue that can begin to pay for things like EAs and expansions.”

For the most part, he credits the two year-old scales at the Water Street South site for the switch from being an annual expense to an annual revenue-generator. “Before that, I think there was a lot of guess-work. Now, you pay for what you bring.”

Fees have remained steady for the past few years for delivering waste to the site: $78 per tonne for both commercial and residential. There have been some successes in encouraging the town’s industries to divert what was formerly treated as waste to other uses, or for it to be removed to other locations by other contractors. This doesn’t directly impact revenues, because in fact the more waste brought in, the more the Town receives in fees. But Papple explains that some types of industrial waste can be more difficult to process than regular household waste, so the costs to the Town for accepting it can be affected.

Instead, efforts have been made to divert tough-to-process waste away from the landfill. And, as part of the EA process, the Town will have to provide proof it has done what it can to promote diversion before expansion is approved.

Blake explains that significant advancements have already been made in that regard over the past few years. In addition to town-wide yard waste pick-ups on a regular basis, with increased frequency at certain times of the year, yard waste depots are also operated at both the landfill and the Municipal Operations Centre. These are very well-utilized, Blake says.

Hazardous household wastes such as paints and aerosols can be dropped off at the landfill whenever it’s open. The same goes for batteries and e-waste.

Construction materials like used concrete or asphalt (but not drywall, which must be landfilled) is accepted up the hill behind the MOC, and area contractors make good use of this service. It’s crushed and re-used in construction work.

Wood-based waste from construction is also taken at the landfill, where it’s chipped and used as a cover over each layer of landfill that’s deposited.

The prospect of accepting — and being paid for — waste from outside the municipality as a revenue-generator does get mentioned as a possibility. And it’s something that will be probably given an analysis in the EA. But it has not been a serious consideration, and is not currently allowed under the landfill’s license.

With all these revenue/expense factors taken into account, Papple admits the prospects for increasing the profit at the landfill is slim. And that leaves the Town with, most likely, a payback period of 80 years for the cost of hopefully opening a new cell in 2018. According to Blake, although that cell would likely represent a slightly greater capacity than what was provided by the original 1984 landfill, it’s still projected to be filled within 35-40 years.

In short, the landfill may have experienced a “turnaround” from being in the red to being in the black. But it is certainly not going “to pay for itself” when it comes to opening up a new cell.

Still, as Papple says, it’s a good news/bad news situation. It may be costly, but little St. Marys is nonetheless blessed with room for expansion at its landfill site. It sits on a 32-hectare plot of former Cement Company land, and only 8 hectares was included in the original 1984 approval. Some buffer space is required by law from all surrounding properties; a waterway running through the site — at least intermittently — was recently classified as a “creek,” warranting certain limitations. But there’s ample space.

Plus, over the decades, it has worked well, with minimal off-site effects from leachate or air quality.

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