Related topic: Did the waste-to-energy committee discussion miss the point? 

The tension between staff and elected officials of the Comox Strathcona Waste Management board (CSWM) ramped up another notch this week.

The friction has increased since directors openly criticized Comox Valley Regional District staff at a full CSWM board meeting two weeks ago. They accused staff of manipulating the wording of an engineering contract to disregard the will of publicly elected officials.

At that same meeting, CSWM directors also accused staff of giving more weight in their recommendations to the views of a staff advisory board than to the elected board.

This breakdown of trust and struggle for power erupted again this week when directors rejected a staff recommendation to set aside the committee’s interest in technologies that convert solid waste into energy.

A select committee of the CSWM board has been exploring the latest technologies that transform undiverted municipal solid waste into energy or recyclable materials, rather than burying it in a landfill.

The committee’s chair, Area B Director Rod Nichol, said the committee’s goal is to extend the useful life of the Pigeon Lake landfill and to not squander the inherent energy contained in undiverted waste.

And to dispose of solid waste in a manner more friendly to the environment.

But when consulting firm Morrisson Herschfield tabled its evaluation of three companies that offer varying WTE technologies, it quickly became obvious that staff and elected officials were at odds again.

Directors privately wondered if they had received the full consultant’s report, or whether they got a version amended by the staff advisory committee.

Marc Rutten, the CVRD’s General Manager of Engineering Services, recommended that the CSWM board stop its consideration of WTE technologies, and take it up again in 2022 as part of the 10-year update of its 2012 Solid Waste Management Plan.

That didn’t sit well with directors who instead ordered staff to use the consultant’s data to provide a more accurate cost comparison between the status quo of burying undiverted waste in a landfill and two of the different WTE technologies.

Rutten based his recommendation on the consultant’s conclusion that continuing to bury undiverted waste was less expensive and less risky than any of the three WTE technologies.

But directors questioned the validity of the consultant’s report, saying it didn’t give a true “apples to apples” comparison of costs.

The report only compared the cost of the CSWM landfilling operations to the costs of the three WTE technologies. It didn’t take into account the CSWM’s cost of source-separating recyclables and organic composting, which is already included in most processes that convert waste to energy.

Campbell River Director Charlie Cornfield was adamant that the cost comparison was flawed, and other directors agreed they didn’t have enough information to make a decision about whether to pursue one of the WTE solutions.

Directors asked staff to prepare a more detailed analysis of what would change for the CSWM operation with the implementation of each technology, what wouldn’t change, and what that would cost.

They also want a breakdown of the cost of each of the CSWM current operations, such as source-separating materials, composting organics, education programs, dealing with hazardous refuse, etc.

Director Roger Kishi of Cumberland urged the committee to eliminate incineration technology as a third WTE option.

Incineration involves direct burning of undiverted waste. It’s a technology commonly used in Europe and at B.C.’s only WTE facility in Burnaby.

And while the emissions from incinerating waste are minimal, according to the consultant, Kishi said the public could never support the optics of a tall smokestack.

After more than two hours of debate, one thing became obvious: The consultant’s terms of reference conflicted with the elected officials goals and weren’t adequate for them to assess cost comparisons between the status quo of landfilling and new technologies that convert that waste into energy.

It’s important for the CSWM committee to fully understand the cost of undertaking any new technology. And to do that the committee must have accurate comparisons if it hopes to convince the CSWM board, the public and the provincial government that moving to a WTE solution makes sense for taxpayers and the environment.

 

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