Tag Archives: Janet Laird

More short takes on bridges, budgets and a business plan

Posted October 25, 2013

A bridge too low?

The city takes two years to rebuild the lower section of Wyndham Street including installing crash guards under the CN rail bridge over the street.

Unfortunately, the city brain trust did not measure the distance from the bottom of the crash guards to the newly laid pavement. Result is there have been four collisions with trucks smacking the guards.

This prompted city engineers to close the street trying figure out what the problem was and to put signs up to warn truckers once the real height is determined.

Meanwhile the street is subject to intense investigation until a solution is found.

It only took two years, eh?

When Janet Laird speaks, is anyone listening anymore?

The dilemma of 6,400 condominium residents in the city not having their waste picked up by the new-fangled automated cart collectors, was not helped by comments by garbage poobah, Janet Laird.

Dr. Laird flatly said there is an understanding at city hall that introducing private collection of waste won’t be considered by Guelph. Not until “efficiencies” of the new system are established.

Guess that’s what she has to say seeing she is the author of the $52 million waste management system that doesn’t work. It fails to serve some 6,400 Guelph residences and the organics plant is unable to reach its planned capacity of 30,000 tonnes of wet waste processed annually.

Her response is “we have offered solutions to all condo developments for dealing with the cart system.”  Tell that to the owners. These are the same owners who purchased their property that had been approved by the city officials to receive all services including garbage collection.

Don’t expect this administration to resolve this serious problem, if Dr. Laird has any say.

Coun. Ian Findlay and the Wilson Farmhouse magical business plan

Ian Findlay, ward 2 councillor, is a small business owner downtown. He now proposes to have the city finance $500,000 to renovate the Wilson Farmhouse into a community centre and “green living showroom” for the whole city.

The business case states the conversion will turn a profit of $17,000 a year. Ian please, that won’t cover the debt-servicing let alone the liability insurance and other variable operating costs.

This has to be the dumbest idea for the good councilor to mastermind since his trip to Edmonton a few years ago to study how that city addresses the public human waste problem. Remember the downtown pissoir experiment that barred females from using the temporary facility, only men? Guess it seemed like a good idea at the time. Ka’ching Ka’ching!

Current public interest in Guelph has the “greening” of the city at the bottom of the family bucket list.  There is far more interest in reining in spending, controlling tax increases and stopping the cuckoo ideas that council members keep bringing up.

Findlay’s proposal deserves a decent burial. It may be fun running the city business and spending other people’s money but politically, it can be a dangerous exercise.

Crafting a city budget for 2014 requires tight public scrutiny

We are approaching the last year of this council’s life. Already the staff has stated that the starting point for the 2014 budget is a 3.4 per cent property tax increase. Hey! That’s an improvement over last year when the staff recommended an 8.5 per cent increase.

There is a major cloud hanging over the city’s 2014 budget gyrations. It’s a petition by taxpayers for an audit of the city’s finances and operations. The Ministry of Municipal Affairs and Housing received the petition and has revealed that it will investigate to determine what led up to the citizen demand for an independent audit.  The non-partisan GrassRoots Guelph organization, of which the writer is a member, has made serious charges of documented financial mismanagement.

In the event some or all these charges are proved to be accurate by an independent audit, this will severely affect the 2014 budget that is to be wrapped up in late November.

Another factor affecting the 2014 city budget is the judgment that is forthcoming involving five lawsuits over the construction of the new city hall. This could result in a liability of more than $20 million including legal costs.

Any thoughts by the Farbridge administration that the 2014 budget will be a good news budget loaded with promises of money for the minority special interests and base of supporters can be devastating at the ballot box next October.

Is the party over? Turn out the lights.



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Guelph’s Titanic –The new organic garbage disposal plant

The City of Guelph is asking the Ministry of Environment if it can accept plastic bags of wet garbage in its $33 million Organic Waste Processing Facility (OWPF).

The official title of the plant is the tony “Waste Resource Innovation Centre.” But what’s in a name?

Now, before we begin, let’s establish the definition of “plastic”.  This application is to be allowed to accept biodegradable plastic collection bags.

Since 2002, citizens have been sorting their waste in tri-coloured plastic bags. The kind that take 1,000 years to degrade.

This was a system created in 2001 by then Mayor Karen Farbridge and her environmental sidekick Janet Laird, chief of waste management for the city.

It seemed like a good idea at the time but the Mayor was defeated in the following election.

Mayor Farbridge was re-elected in 2006 and proceeded to turn Guelph into the organic waste disposal capital of Ontario along with a public relations campaign declaring Guelph as the best place to live, lowest crime rate in the country and, oops, the highest debt in Ontario.

But the plot sickens.

Let’s see. In 2008, Ms. Laird pulls together an idea to build a $33 million wet waste plant. It was to be built on the former wet waste plant site that was shut down because of smelling up the neighbourhood and being mismanaged. This time, like the phoenix, a new waste management plant would arise and meet the needs of the City of Guelph for more than 25 years.

Indeed, it was predicted that wet waste from other municipalities would create a profit centre for the city.

Who would know better than the staff directed by the Mayor and her fellow travelers on council?

Along came Guelph’s Titanic

So the deal was hatched and a company was engaged to build the plant, run it and negotiate contracts with other municipalities to feed the plant to meet its 60,000 tonnes per year capacity.

By comparison, that’s more than the 46,325 gross tonnage of the RMS Titanic. And we know what happened to that ship.

Can anyone imagine plunking  a vessel the size of the Titanic at the Dunlop Drive facility, plus another 14,000 tonnes.

Why build such an oversized plant at the Guelph taxpayer’s expense? Perhaps it was driven by some power egos determined to prove their inflated global theories of waste management.

For the record, Guelph generates about 10,000 tonnes of wet waste a year or 15 per cent of its Titanic-plant capacity.

Instead, in 2008, at the height of the worst recession since the Great Depression, the staff and majority of elected councillors, operating beyond the glare of public input, signed the deal with Maple Reinders Construction.

The plant started operating September 11, 2011. It has yet to produce contracted volumes of reusable compost.

In fact, the current test run to bring the plant up to its contracted production is not using wet waste from Guelph but importing 900 tonnes, over six weeks, from Hamilton.

Did we mention the stuff was coming in plastic bags, the kind that takes 1,000 years to degrade?

In the fall of 2011, there were complaints of odours from nearby residents. The contractor was instructed to remedy the complaints.

              The plant was missing the parts to eliminate odours

Seems some important parts, including ammonia scrubbers, were left out of the construction. This caused leaks. escaping from the stack, to stink up the neighbourhood.

Momma Mia! The whole plan created by Ms. Laird and her team was to eliminate air-borne smells. The plant was not ready to meet neighbouring long-standing odour complaints.

The bottom line. The plant takes in tonnes of wet waste and by a process based on microbiology, magically turns the waste into reusable compost. There are complications. The temperature year round must be within a range to permit the microbes to do their appointed task. If it’s too hot they lay down on the job. If it’s too cold the same thing happens. Meanwhile, the trucks keep rolling in to dump their waste. Not only from Guelph, but now we learn from the Regional Municipality of Waterloo.

That means wet waste from Kitchener, Waterloo and other parts of the Regional Municipality, is heading for Guelph for processing. Is that a great investment or what?

Along came a $15 million spider.

Then, in the middle of the construction phase, the Ministry of Environment (MOE) informs the city it cannot use its current plastic bag collection system. The city council approves spending an additional $15 million to convert waste collection to an automated system employing special trucks and bins.

The bill to Guelph taxpayers has now reached $50 million. That’s $33 million for the plant, $15 million for the new bin collection system plus another $2 million for carrying charges and design changes.

Let’s recap at this point.

Council and staff have committed taxpayers to paying $50 million for a system that has yet to work. Unknowingly, taxpayers are financing a large scale regional Organic Waste Processing Facility (OWPF), the payback of which is uncertain.

Now the city is appealing to the MOE to allow waste to be delivered not in “plastic “ bags but in biodegradable “plastic” bags produced by an Ontario company.

Let’s get this straight. The city commits to spending $50 million, only to discover there exists the option of using bio-degradable plastic bags to collect the waste. The MOE issued a draft of new guidelines in 2009 that would allow the use of biodegradable plastic bags, provided the composting facility was designed to handle the material.

Despite this advice, Council agreed to spend $15 million on a new bin collection system. The decision was based on the MOE denial of using petroleum-based plastic bags in new organic waste facilities, as has been the case in the city for almost ten years.

But that was not quite true, was it?

Was there no discussion between the city, Maple Reinders and the province about the availability of bio-degradable plastic bags before the $15 million decision was made?

There was no business plan for the project

Now taxpayers are stuck with a $15 million bill, a $33 million plant that is very seriously overbuilt and this was all done without a business plan. That’s one of the reasons why the city refuses to make public the real operating costs of the plant, including the 21st century automated-collection system.

Already there is a citizen’s revolt over the bin deal with many questions yet to be answered by staff. Just remember, the days of heavy snow storms will cripple collection of wet waste and back-up receiving material at the plant.

This is a monumental mistake and Guelph citizens are stuck with a disposal system that will take years to pay off. Furthermore it is dependent on the bulk of inbound feedstock coming from other municipalities.

Some questions needing answers

Who made the decision to build a plant with a 60,000 tonne capacity a year, with the City of Guelph only supplying 10,000 tonnes of wet waste per year?

What is the plan to get rid of potential tonnes of composted material? Think Titanic, think big.

What are the real operating costs of the venture?

What profits, if any, can be expected?

What damages will be done to Guelph roads from garbage trucks, from other municipalities, bringing material to the plant?

Who decided to spend an additional $15 million to convert the waste collection system to automated trucks and bins?

When did the city learn that bio-degradable plastic bags containing wet waste would be acceptable at the plant for conversion to compost.

Why wasn’t the public informed of the contract agreements between Maple Reinders Contracting and its subsidiary companies that are part of the waste management plan?

This is a dereliction of responsibility on the part of city Council that has placed this heavy burden on the taxpayers.



Filed under Between the Lines

Is this a contract with the devil?

Posted June 23, 2012

Janet Laird, Executive director of Planning, and Building, Engineering and Environment informed Ward 1 Coun. Jim Furfaro of the cost of the 900 tonnes of wet waste from Hamilton.

You remember the stuff had to come from Hamilton, why?

Doesn’t Guelph have enough of the wet waste to feed the operational test to begin in July? Guelph’s wet waste collected in plastic bags is a no-no.

Consider that the amount of wet waste coming from Waterloo also does not meet the feedstock requirement for the crucial test. The test will determine if the plant meets the capacity level contained in the contract.

So, here’s how it works. AIM Environmental, general contractor Maple Reinders’ division, in charge of negotiating supply contracts, is paid $79 a tonne to deliver the Hamilton waste to the compost plant. However, the real cost is a $60 per tonne tipping fee paid to the city.

So the cost of this test, experiment, or whatever, to the city is $17,100.

Why is the city paying anything to confirm the plant is meeting its operating projections according to the contract? It is up to the contractor to deliver a plant that meets the terms of the contract.

Apparently not, as this break-in period has lasted 10 months.

To put it in plain terms, the cost of carrying a $33 million project is $1,650,000 per year at five per cent.  During the time this plant has not performed since last September it has cost an estimated $1,370,500 in interest.

Are we getting nickel and dimed because the contract to build the plant was mishandled and oversight ignored?

The reasons for bringing waste from Hamilton for this test is unclear.

It fits into the murky world of the real operating costs of this $33 million project. The city has steadfastly refused to disclose the operating costs of the plant once it is fully operational.

It has been estimated the real cost of operating the plant is $340 a tonne. That’s a long way from $79 a tonne for tipping fees.

Then Ms. Laird revealed the terms of the contract to receive wet waste from the City of Waterloo.

The contract called for Waterloo to deliver 20,000 tonnes of material to the plant.

AIM, the general contractors sales arm, negotiated the deal and it contains a “put or pay” clause. This requires Waterloo to pay for 20,000 tonnes whether they use it or not.

Here’s the stickler. Waterloo is only able to contribute 10,000 tonnes currently. The “put or pay” clause doesn’t kick in until next year.  It seems the supply of feedstock is uncertain and the City of Guelph must guarantee the required flow of wet waste to the plant.

And that supply contract is held by AIM Environmental, not the city.

Here’s the kicker:  The city is contractually obligated to supply adequate tonnage so the plant can operate at full capacity. And to whom are they obligated? Aim Environmental, the subsidiary of Maple Reinders and operators of the compost plant..

It appears that Maple Reinders has a grip on the compost plant that taxpayers own but cannot control.

It’s time for the city to reveal all the terms and conditions of this multi-corporation waste management contract. Burying the details among a select group of elected and non-elected officials is close to demanding an independent inquiry.

What are the plans to dispose of the tonnes of composted material the plant is supposed to manufacture?

Here’s a suggestion. When the automated waste pick-up truck comes down the street emptying the curbside bins, another truck follows and fills the bins up with fresh compost.

Soon Guelph would be the most composted city in the world. Another first!

Miz Laird, you have some ‘splainin’ to do.

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Media Watch – January 14, 2011

Sugar and Spice and dolls make Guelph Santa nice

Tribune columnist Alan Pickersgill brings readers up to date on Mayor Karen Farbridge’s latest triumph. The Mayor usually gets blamed for everything that goes wrong.

She can point to her city coming first among 378 North American cities as the new home of Santa Claus if forced to leave the North Pole due to global warming. The study was completed by Toronto university students who apparently don’t have enough to do.

The criteria is the number of cookie factories; milk producers; doll and game manufacturing facilities; postal workers and couriers; and department stores in each city.

Let’s hear it for Mayor Karen!

We’re Number One! We’re Number One! We’re Number One!

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Student housing dilemma: Not in my neighbourhood, please!

According to a letter by Patrick Kubicki in The Mercury, not even University of Guelph President Alastair Summerlee wants his students living in or near the university.

The student housing situation continues to fester as residents put up with the actions of young people whooping it up when away from home.

There is little support for stricter regulation of off-campus student housing. Councillors turn the other cheek and the university leadership shrugs seeing it as not their problem. Well, it is their problem and city council.

Operating student housing in residential neighbourhoods only benefits the few landlords at the expense of the citizens who own homes there. It’s time for a fix by the city to clamp down on these student houses by inspecting regularly to prevent abuse of the bylaws.

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Nobody likes the Guelph Transit route changes

How long does it take to reroute transit buses? In Guelph’s case it has been an ongoing project for more than eight months. When launch day arrived at the beginning of the year, everyone, drivers, passengers and commuters all protested the changes.

Andrew Cleary, President of the Amalgamated Transit Union, Local 1189, writes in The Mercury that a lack of training has left drivers “struggling to learn new routes in an unsafe and unhealthy environment.”

Question: Were operator’s conditions safe and healthy before the route changes?  Just asking.

This self-serving piety about how tough the job is resonates as pure political positioning by the union preparing for the next round of negotiations.

The outcome has not gone as smoothly as it should. If transit management failed to instruct the drivers on the new routes then they are as culpable as the union. As usual the passengers and taxpayers are left standing in the cold waiting for the next bus to come.

Late News Flash

Check out Ken Spira’s comment in Guelphspeaks re the Microbe Motel scandal. Ken’s leadership and contribution in exposing the boondoggle that the Farbridge administration has foisted on the public, is an example of great citizen involvement and stewardship

Ken is founder and president of the Guelph Waste Management Committee and a member of the Public Advisory Committee (PAC)  PAC has been commissioned by the city to examine the operations of the $33 million waste management plant, known popularly as the Microbe Motel.

Reading his comments sends a shiver down the back on how money is wasted.

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Guelph’s new compost plant failure revealed

Mayor Farbridge’s green dream is in trouble after two months of opening the new compost plant. The first effort took ten years to decay. This plant sets a new standard in fiscal irresponsibility

At a meeting held Tuesday night, November 29, city staff was unable to explain why the new $32 million compost plant was stinking up the neighbourhood. It appears that a vital heater to eliminate the odour problem was never installed in the fume stack.

Neighbours attending the meeting were annoyed to hear that the three city staffers were not aware of the cause of the odour problem. Janet Laird, Executive Director of engineering and environmental services, left the staffers out of the loop. Was this oversight deliberate?

According to my source, Laird was aware the equipment had not been installed and that modeling had indicated that the heater would facilitate the dispersion of the gases causing the odors. But she did not tell her subordinates who were sent to offer the angry citizens a phony story about Cargill processing operation causing the smells.

Cargill’s environmental support person attended the meeting and indicated that the company never had a complaint in the 25 years it has operated in this area. The company was annoyed that once again the city news releases attempted to blame local industry in this area. She assured the residents that Cargill takes the odor issue very seriously and requested that residents contact her directly with any odor concerns.

It was interesting to see who did not attend the meeting including Director Laird, nor a representative of the contractor nor the plant operator. The two ward councillors were attending a council meeting held the same night but their regrets were noted.

A representative of the Ministry of Environment identified some unusual behavior with the gases at the top of the stack. It is evident that the exhaust from the stack was heavier than the air at the top of the stack and this accounted for the unusual behavior of the exhaust gases. There appears to need the heater in the stack to disperse the odour to higher altitudes so as not to affect neighbourhoods.

What a schmozzle! It is beyond belief that the city administration, paid a $40,000 fine in 2007 over compost odours in the previous plant, has spent $32 million on a plant that has worse defects than the previous one.

The one person who managed this debacle is Janet Laird, the long time boss of waste management.

Now some residents in this area are seriously considering launching a class action lawsuit against the city and the developer for failing to solve the odour problem. Just what the city needs – another lawsuit!

Perhaps that may clear the air of the odour of secrecy and mismanagement that is the basis of this situation. (pun intended)

Mayor Farbridge it’s time for you to step up to the plate and clean this mess up.

You know what you have to do.

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