What didn’t work in Hamilton’s compost plant doesn’t work here

The compost plant plot not only thickens but also quickens.

Hamilton City Council adopted a report in 2010 regarding a $1.1 million fix of problems in its compost plant designed and built by Maple Reinders. That’s the same outfit that Guelph Council signed up to build its “state of the art” $33 million biomass compost plant.

Guelph’s shiny new plant, after two months of operation, was closed to waste product November 25 because of odour complaints.  Instead, it was diverted to a landfill in St. Thomas. It was revealed that some $76,000 was added to the contract for two key rough-ins: A generator for the stack and an acid scrubber. Neither component was installed.

It was noted in the Hamilton report that operating costs would increase by $1.95 a tonne once the retrofits were completed. On the surface it does not appear to be much but it adds up over the years.

Another error in judgment by those responsible for the Guelph plant, was over-building. It is estimated that Guelph wet waste amounts to about 10,000 tonnes per year. Our plant has a capacity of 20,000 tonnes.  So a Maple Reinder subsidiary negotiated a deal with Waterloo to take its wet waste –it is now going to Hamilton – at a cost that is less than the predicted plant-operating costs.

Guelph apparently followed Hamilton’s experience with Maple Reinders and awarded into the largest capital contract in the city’s history to that company..

It is self evident that the contractor may have sold Guelph a bill of goods. Not only to lock up the design and construction elements, but to receive the right to operate the plant and sell that right to outside municipalities. Maple Reinders controls the two subsidiary companies, Wellington Organix (plant operator) and Aim Environmental, (who cut the contract with the City of Waterloo) to process its wet waste in the Guelph plant.

This arrangement is called a sole-source provider in contractual circles. Guelph’s last experience in allowing a sole-source provider occurred during Mayor Farbridge’s first term in office. This was giving a company the rights to operate the new Memorial Arena. The owner of the right to operate the facility, a Calgary firm, did not live up to the terms of its contract with the city and eventually was turfed out during the Quarrie administration.

That episode cost taxpayers an estimated $4 million to clean it up.

It is troublesome that a company such as Maple Reinders, with alleged experience in building these plants, would make the same mistakes that occurred at a similar plant in Hamilton built seven years ago.

It was revealed that this system of composting wet waste in not new. It has been used in many parts of Europe where, apparently, the tolerance of odours is higher than those allowed in Ontario.

So city staff and council went along with this system and Maple Reinders proposal, despite the experience in other jurisdictions.

The questions the Public Advisory Committee will be asking in mid January could provide greater clarification of what went wrong and who was responsible.

Unfortunately Guelph is stuck with a wet waste operation that was inadequately designed. It was built in the wrong place at the wrong time.

Stay tuned. This opera is just in the first act.

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