You are about to be schmoozed in a newspaper series

Posted July 7, 2013

In the Saturday edition of the local daily newspaper, there appeared the first of a six-part series on Guelph’s checkered 13-year history of waste management. Predictably, it will be a schmooze series extolling how successful Mayor Farbridge’s waste management has become in the past five years.

But has it?

The first installment was a background piece of the history of the Farbridge inspired plan to divert waste from the landfill and witness the city “clawing its way back to the top of the waste management game.”

So, a $52 million experiment to completely change the way waste is collected and processed has now become a “game”. Is the administration’s objective now, according to the headline of the first part of the series, to win “the game”?

Is the prize the Stanley Cup of waste management?

The Aecon consultant’s report on the Organic Waste Processing Plant’s (OWPF) 2012 performance reveals what really occurred. The operation failed to meet its production targets.

The Dunlop Road waste management facility that includes the $34 million OWPF and recycling operations processed a total of 105,915 tonnes in 2012.

Here’s the breakdown:

OWPF processed 17,338 tonnes or 16 per cent of the total
The recycling operation processed 40,037 tonnes or 38 per cent
Some 8,163 tonnes of brush, leaves and yard waste was handled or 8 per cent
Some 40,377 tonnes or 38 per cent processed mixed solid and medical waste and contaminated soil. (Note , this material may include pre-treated solid sewage waste that goes into the landfill).

The newspaper series states the city achieved a “quite remarkable 68 per cent diversion rate.” The basis of this statement is not explained.

The old adage, liars figure and figures lie, comes to mind.

The Aecon study stated that 48,715 tonnes were shopped to the landfill while another 105 tonnes was sent to a Niagara Falls, NY waste facility. That results in 46.093 per cent of the total processed waste of 105,915 tonnes was diverted last year to the landfill.

Now Guelph’s garbage destined for the landfill will be shipped under the terms of a new contract with Waste Management, to a site that is 181 kms from the city.

Is this part of the administration’s strategy to reduce the amount of garbage destined to the landfill and excessive amounts of carbon dioxide into the atmosphere?

But let’s parse the numbers a little more. The OWPF is designed to handle 30,000 tonnes of wet waste a year. Of that total, The City of Guelph produces 10,000 tonnes while the Region of Waterloo is contracted to supply a minimum of 20,000 tonnes per year.

In its first full year of operation, the operation fell far short of that target. The break-in period of the facility was delayed by deficiencies in the plant design and equipment. To add insult to injury, the city imported wet waste from Hamilton to test the OWPF operation.

Undeterred, the Mayor and her waste management chief, Janet Laird, pressed on to put the plant in full operational mode. Meanwhile the Guelph taxpayers, who built the plant, are left wondering why their organic wet waste plant was built to accommodate the needs of a neighbouring municipality.

There is also the spectre of competition from a new automated recycling plant operated by Waste Management in Cambridge that is sucking business away from the Guelph facility. The Guelph operation is labour intensive as the material is sorted by hand.

Was this an example of high stakes gamesmanship or a monumental ego trip by the Mayor and her cohorts? Perhaps both.

There is no evidence that a cost/benefit analysis was undertaken before the OWPF project was launched. There are no financial details of the contract with plant contractor Maple Reinders and Aim Environmental, its subsidiary company operating the plant and selling its capacity.

Taxpayers have been left in the dark. The Public Liaison Committee is composed of a mixture of concerned citizens and non-resident members. Its focus has been on the operations of the plant as opposed to the costs of operation. It was not exposed to the financial details of the operation.

So the next five days will see a manufactured newsprint journey explaining what a great job the city is doing to manage our garbage.

If the first of the series is intended to be the scene setter, this exercise will turn out to be the longest running public relations snow job we have seen in the local daily in sometime.

And they call this a game?

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8 Comments

Filed under Between the Lines

8 responses to “You are about to be schmoozed in a newspaper series

  1. joseph phelan

    speaking of waste management ….get rid of Farbridge….she is a waste of time and waste of space

  2. Glen N. Tolhurst

    Having just read thru the articles, I see that the city still is not releasing the financial details of the composting facility such as actual vs. budget capital costs, total costs including the 3 bin system, operating costs of both the composting and recycling facilities, and revenue generated from recycled material and compost sales. This is all too typical of the lack of transparency that is rampant in the whole waste management file by the council and administration. This practice, similar to growing mushrooms,would appear to be “keep citizens in the dark and pile BS on them”! A fully open independent post-completion-audit is required.

    • Glen N. Tolhurst: Oh ye of little faith! According to waste management honcho Dean Wyman, the city is looking for more customers for its new organics waste processing facility. But wait! Isn’t it sold out? With a capacity of 30,000 tonnes per year and Guelph supplying 10,000 tonnes with the balance contracted to the Regional of Waterloo, what is there to sell? Well Wyman feels its okay to double sell Waterloo’s unused capacity even though the city has contracted to receive $2,340,000 from the Region whether they use it or not. If Wyman was a member of the Canadian Senate, he might be forgiven for double dipping. The question remains, what happens if at the same time, the new customer shows up and so does the Region’s trucks? This whole scheme smells worse than the wet stuff going into the plant. The city has no right to break the contract with the Region by selling its legal right to 20,000 tonnes annually to another party. The way this project has been created and executed by the city’s waste management, this comes as no surprise.

  3. Waste Management Milestones in Guelph from 1961 to Present…. Scroll down to May 1, 2006; “City Councillors vote UNANIMOUSLY to indefinitely shut down the organics plant built 10 years earlier, amid mounting odour complaints and following a staff warning it would require $3.8 Million to repair the corroded roof and air management system”

    So a question to Councillor Burcher and Councillor Laidlaw, Since you were both part of the 2003-2006 Council, can you please justify spending $36 million to build a new compost plant, versus voting against shutting down the old plant, and spending $3.8 Million in repairs!?

    • Russell: What a difference five years makes! What you have illustrated is not only that a woman has every right to change her mind, but to spend $32.2 million on an ego trip and turn our city into the global loss leader of waste management, is quite another matter. Taxpayers should not expect this reversal of principle from two ladies whose day job lies in academia. Trouble is, it’s not their money.

    • That’s the problem Gerry! They spend money like a bunch of rich kids with their father’s credit card!

  4. David Birtwistle

    The newspaper article has one saving grace as it will consume more and more (unread) newsprint which will,if recycled via the WRIC,mean a significant(?) increase in revenue.Now,if only WRIC could recycle the various City Council blogs?!

  5. geo

    Liars and thieves. Sounds harsh and could be called comic book criticism but in this situation it’s accurate.

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