She never promised us a rose garden

Posted June 11, 2012

At a recent meeting of the Public Liaison Committee overseeing the new $33 million compost plant, members were told that “this is a waste facility and I don’t think we can guarantee there will never be odours.

This was in a letter by Janet Laird, Executive Director of Planning and Building, Engineering and Environment and point person on the compost plant project. I don’t think they print business cards that can handle that title.

First some background.

From 2003 to 2006 the council led by Mayor Karen Farbridge maintained a policy of composting of wet waste. That council also introduced the three plastic bag system to households. During that period, it is interesting to note that Ms. Laird was the person in charge of the management of waste in the city.

In 2006, a new council was elected under the leadership of Mayor Kate Quarrie. It was apparent from the get-go that the compost plant, a metal building, was a management nightmare exhausting extreme odours, a deteriorating structure due to chemical reactions of the composting and creating a safety hazard for employees.

The neighbours formed the Guelph Waste Management Coalition under the leadership of Ken Spira. The group complained bitterly of the smells emanating from the original plant and flowing into nearby neighbourhoods.

Council listened and shut the plant down, the manager was terminated and the wet waste was shipped to a New York State incinerator. It’s important to note that cost of this waste removal was $85 a tonne.

In 2006, Karen Farbridge swept back into office along with 10 members of council who supported her policies.

Enter Janet Laird with a new proposal to reinvent the composting of Guelph’s wet waste.

She now denies promising there would be no odours from the proposed plant. During the planning and public hearings, it was emphasized that the plant would be odour free.

The planning by Director Laird’s staff did not include any alternative to handling the wet waste other than building a new composting plant. It was proclaimed that the plant would be state of the art in handling the city’s wet waste.

But then things started going off the rails.

The final design of the plant approved a capacity that was three times the city’s needs for the next 20 years.

The successful contractor, Maple Reinders, said one of its associated companies would negotiate with Waterloo to have its wet waste processed in the new plant.

At the same time, questions were raised about the cost of the city operating the plant. Estimates by Guelph Waste Management Coalition calculated the cost would be $342 a tonne. That was more than twice the price to be paid by Waterloo.

To this day, after eight months of operation, the Laird department has not released the real operating costs of the plant. Also, the plant has never reached operational capacity.

Now, one would think that such a huge project would be thoroughly examined by the Ministry of Environment (MOE) along with the assigned city officials.

Along came a major curve ball with the MOE stating the plant could not receive waste in plastic bags. The decision was made to spend another $15 million to supply bins to households and custom trucks to empty the bins.

Was this never considered in the design phase of the plant?  Or was it submerged to avoid a negative public reaction before the plant was built?

Meanwhile, in her letter, Ms. Laird upset the Public Liaison Committee by stating that the odour complaints made last November “had not been verified.” She further chastised residents commenting they “should not be encouraged to report faint odours.

This plant commenced operation last September. It was halted from November to February when more testing was done with small amounts of wet waste.

Now the city is importing 900 tonnes of wet waste from Hamilton, starting in July, for a six-week test to determine if the plant is meeting all terms of the contract.

This project, foisted on an uninformed public, is an example of arrogance by the Farbridge administration that is consumed with the environment.

Indeed, a rose by any other name.

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2 Comments

Filed under Between the Lines

2 responses to “She never promised us a rose garden

  1. Ruby

    Janet Laird did declare the facility would be odour free.
    Gerry, do you know where a person can write to ask for Janet Laird to be fired?

    • Ruby: Guess we’ll have to wait until a new council is elected in 2014. I have the feeling that there will be changes to bring reform and return common sense to the city’s business.

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