Tag Archives: laird

There they go again, putting the cart before the horse

Posted June 20, 2012

First. they built a $33 million wet waste composting plant that has yet to reach operation.

Then they announced the residents would start using carts, bins, whatever current bureaucratic nomenclature calls them, to collect their waste instead of the three-bag plastic bag system.

Now the planning and building, engineering and environment committee of Council has amended the bylaw stating the bins may be stored in any exterior location except in the front yard where they must be located adjacent to a building or fence.

Maybe you could put your bins on the front lawn and plant a flower garden around them.

Coun. Bob Bell stated the obvious that row-housing residents should not be forced to store their bins in front of the home. Logic would dictate there is a front and a back of a connected row house and no easy access to the rear to bring the bins around to the front curb.

So there you have it.

The city builds a compost plant that isn’t working after eight months of testing. The province informs the city that wet waste in plastic bags cannot be delivered to the plant. Solution, upgrade the entire waste collection system costing more than $15 million buying bins/carts for every home and business and special trucks to pick the containers up.

Now they figure out that many homes in the city cannot store the big bins due to a lack of garage or front yard space.

Was this huge project really thought out before it was executed?

Citizens are waiting for the other shoe to fall.

Did they consider moving the heavy bins to the curb in winter when snowfall hits the city or temperatures drop?

What about seniors? Can they cope with manhandling large bins to the roadside?

What about vermin getting into the bins and spreading the contents?

How are odours controlled if bins are stored inside?

What happens to those folks who are physically unable to get the bins to the curb?

How is vandalism going to be controlled?

Did anyone on Janet Laird’s staff bring these matters up before the contract was executed?

You can take great comfort in the fatuous statement by committee chairperson Coun. Leanne Piper: “I have great confidence the citizens of Guelph will be great neighbours.”

You can’t make this stuff up.



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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.


Filed under Between the Lines

Microbe Motel will never be free of odours, operators say

Now they tell us.

Some $33 million spent on a plant to handle wet waste and it doesn’t work. Add another estimated $15 million for green bins and the automated trucks to empty them, and we’re staring at almost $50 million.

Ken Spira has some important information in guelphspeaks comments that will astonish the public who have to finance this project.

How did this happen? How could civic staff and council ever approve this spending without considering that it was too expensive and would not meet specifications, particularly eliminating odours.

Did they not realize that the type of material that was being composted was of varying degrees and quality. Each time they process a batch, the recipe is different. What happens when the temperature drops? Do the microbes munching on the stuff curl up and die or just strike because it’s too cold?

Were there no professionals on city staff to warn of this toxic mix that cannot be controlled, no matter what the operators say. Did the city obtain outside advice as to the experience in other communities in handling a mish-mash of wet garbage? In all types of weather?

Now we learn that a stack afterburner costing $59,000 was roughed in but the equipment was not installed. Another rough in was $25,000 for an acid scrubber that the designer of the Plant, Maple Reinders, did not include in the modeling. The entire cost of the acid scrubber is $392,679.58. The Ministry of Environment (MOE) mandated the scrubber had to be installed.

As this horror story unfolds, the reputation of Maple Reinders is slowly sinking as more facts of cost cutting and design shortcuts are revealed.

The responsibility for this lies with Janet Laird, Executive Director of the environmental services and engineering. It is doubtful that she will be asked to resign as she is too close to Mayor Karen Farbridge.

As former president Harry S Truman said: “If you can’t stand the heat, get out of the kitchen.”

That time has arrived.

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Guelph’s $33 million Microbe Motel set to reopen


Down on Watson Road the world’s largest chemistry set is about to start accepting limited amounts of wet garbage to feed its hungry hoard of miniscule microbes. Known as the Wet Waste Management Plant, the chemical reaction of trillions of the little beasties is eagerly awaiting their munchies of sloppy wet garbage.

The theory is that these miracle micros turn the wet yucky stuff from our homes and businesses into lovely dry compost filled with natural nutrients. How to handle all that compost, that is created 365 days a year, has yet to be decided.

Well a funny thing happened as the microbe motel was fired up last September. Odours permeating the nearby residential neighbourhoods, as a result of this giant experiment in grand new digs, became a redux of an old problem.

This wasn’t supposed to happen. The city, through its environmental services and engineering department under the leadership of garbage maven Janet Laird, had assured residents for the past three years that this would not happen.

We know now it did.

The plant stopped taking the wet waste on November 25 to permit an investigation of what went wrong.

About two weeks later in a press release, Executive Director Janet Laird promised the plant would be in full production by the end of December.

So much for that. Then it was announced that the Public Advisory Committee (PAC) would investigate the problems associated with the plant’s design and construction to determine responsibility and solutions.

That process has started and the PAC is meeting January 16 to examine data and study an action plan to fix the problems.

Already there have been leaks of information that point the finger at the design and construction of the plant by Maple Reinders.

The city’s responsibility in all this has been adroitly avoided by putting the onus of fixing the problem on the laps of the PAC. The mayor and her sidekick Laird have blended into the woodwork on this issue, leaving the hard decisions to a non-elected group of citizens and staff.

While it might be good politics, it is really an abdication of responsibility. At a time when real leadership is required, the Farbridge administration put the wagons in a circle to avoid public criticism.

The irony is that the Ministry of Environment (MOE) director for this area has stated that the plant’s certificate of approval did not include a “commissioning period.”

It has now been revealed that it will take from four to five months for the microbe motel to reach full production.

The bottom line: What is the payback?  How will the city pay the capital costs of launching a $50 million waste management system? What are the real operating costs?

Look at it this way: We have a $33 million microbe motel that doesn’t work; a $2.5 million skating rink in front of city hall and a new $16 million civic museum built on someone else’s property. Add in the $10 million it will cost the city for the new WellingtonDufferinGuelph public health headquarters and the public coffers are empty.

Now that’s what I call voodoo fiscal management.

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