How Guelph’s Green Machine wasted $32 million

Let me see if I have this straight.

Since July 2006 until September 2011, Guelph’s wet garbage was shipped to an incinerator in New York State. The cost was $85 a tonne.

In 2007, Mayor Karen Farbridge and her ten-member majority of Council decided that incineration was not the solution to waste management but the problem.

I like to call this group of city legislators “ The Green Machine.” Thus began the process of creating an in-house wet waste management system. Negotiations were chiefly secret and the taxpayers were kept out of the loop.

It was a done deal when the official announcement was made and an outfit known as Maple Reinders was hired to design and build a new processing plant to cost $32 million. It is the biggest single capital-spending project ever undertaken by the city.

Council approved the design that would be triple the current city’s needs for wet waste disposal.

Then the builder suggested that the extra capacity could be used by another city. In this case it was Waterloo that could defray some of the operating costs. A third party settled that deal and Waterloo gained access to the facility for $117 a tonne.

But the Guelph Waste Coalition, a group of citizens who live near the compost plant, attempted to find out the per-tonne operating costs. The city staff under the direction of Janet Laird, Executive Director of Engineering and Environmental Services, declined to reveal the operating costs.

Undaunted. The Coalition persisted and calculated the per-tonne operating cost to be $342. City staff denied this educated estimate but never came up with the correct operating figure.

So, Guelph spends $32 million to build a wet waste plant run by bacteria to create compost, sells its capacity to a civic neighbour that pays about a third of its operating costs.

Did anyone in the Green Machine that approved this project create a business plan? Or was one ever created?

Why was consideration not given to use the waste to generate electricity through incineration as occurs in most Scandinavian countries? Those systems are pollution free thanks to advanced technology that is efficient with the added benefit of creating power into the Guelph grid.

But no, the greenies on Council led by the Mayor, did not even consider the option. Such introverted blindness to the opportunity of creating a facility with power-generated capability and a big payback, epitomizes the misguided attitude of the majority of city council.

Wait it gets even better!

With construction of the plant well under way on the same site as the old one that rotted away in 2006, the Ministry of Environment (MOE) said it would not approve an operating permit if the site were to receive the waste in plastic bags.

Enter Stage Two of the debacle. Staff determined the permit would be approved if the city adopted the Green Bin system of collecting waste. Cost of this was announced to be more than $15 million to buy the bins and trucks.

Did anyone on staff check with the MOE before committing the city to approve this gargantuan garbage disposal system?

Once again, the Green Machine majority on Council approved the expenditure. It is now being debated again December 5.

Let’s sum this up. The city contracted to spend an estimated $47 million to solve a problem that didn’t exist. The solution including tripling the wet waste processing charges and allowing another municipality to use the facility for one third of the operating costs.

This single dream of the Green Machine has caused the city to defer indefinitely a new downtown library, the south end recreation centre and the Wilson Street parking garage.

This is what happens when ideology trumps reason and the taxpayers are left holding the bag.

And it was done behind closed doors with little if any public input.

The day this was approved, public trust went out the window.

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4 Comments

Filed under Between the Lines

4 responses to “How Guelph’s Green Machine wasted $32 million

  1. F James

    Composting schemes like this have been in operation throughout europe for over 10 years and with the cost of disposal only increasing will reap benefits. Guelph are actually ahead of the curve here – other municipalities (like Vancouver and Surrey) are just starting similar schemes.

    • James: I suspect the success of some European waste conversion to compost systems does not necessarily apply in Guelph. The city, without in depth public input and expert advice, approved a $33 million contract and was then forced by the province to spend another $15 million to collect the wet waste.

      This was passed almost in secret by the Farbridge administration without considering the alternatives including incineration to produce power with low ash disposal. Many Swedish communities incinerate their waste and become self -supporting with the resultant electrical power. These systems are environmentally safe. If anyone is environmentally inclined in the world it has to be the Swedes.

      To top it off, the Guelph plant start-up was almost a year ago and is just now undergoing trials (importing 900 tonnes of wet waste from Hamilton) to meet the contractual performance. Funding for this project was from borrowed money thereby substantially increasing the city debt.

      Now council is talking about fast-tracking the proposed $63 million Baker Street library and South End recreation centre estimated to cost $37 million.

  2. Igor Gorzkowski

    From the first moment I had to throw garbage out in Guelph back in 2001 when we first moved here I had no doubt that there was corruption and funds being wasted. I like the environment and would like leave a reasonably clean planet for my daughter, but this is not right. These kind of decisions affect the public and should be made with the public consent. I don’t see how the automated system is going to work and frankly I think this is going to be a huge immediate health hazard with lots of garbage rotting on driveways and garages. I will go out of my way to support people trying to bring this nonsense down.
    Igor from Guelph

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