Could Kus-kus-sum go coastal?

Could Kus-kus-sum go coastal?

Photo: A view of the Campbell River estuary as it was in 1989, before restoration. Courtesy of Tim Ennis

 

The importance of the planned restoration of the Fields Sawmill site may well go beyond repairing a blight on the Comox Valley’s image. It’s likely to influence the prospects of a coast-wide approach to replacing multiple forest industry eyesores with ecological assets.

The remnants of early-20th century logging practices can be found all up and down Vancouver Island’s coastlines in the persona of abandoned sawmills, which were almost always located in estuaries.

These shuttered mills that once buzzed around the clock, cutting logs into usable lumber, have fallen victim to government policies that allow the export of raw logs, and to changing industry practices.

In the early 1900s, timber companies moved their logs by rail to larger rivers where they were dumped into the river, boomed, then towed by tugboats to sawmills located in estuaries. While booming adored our beaches with interesting collections of driftwood, it was inefficient and slow.

That practice still goes on in the Fraser River and in the Nanaimo and Ladysmith areas. But most Island logging has now moved toward truck-based transportation. It’s flexible, less expensive more reliable.

The change means sawmills no longer need to be located in intertidal environments. And that, in turn, means there’s an opportunity to restore those shorelines and estuaries to their natural habitat, and create functioning ecosystems for fish and other wildlife.

A view of the Campbell River estuary in 2016, after restoration

If Project Watershed — the nonprofit leading Field Sawmill project, called Kus-kus-sum to honor an ancient First Nations village across the river — succeeds in raising the $6.5 million it needs to purchase the property and restore it, other communities will be inspired to seize their own opportunities.

And there are plenty of them.

Closed sawmills

In Tahsis, there are concrete slabs where two former sawmills once operated on the estuary. They closed down in 2001 and 2003. The Gold River Bowater pulp mill, also located on a river, closed in 1999.

In Port Alberni, the Somass sawmill officially closed in August, but has been essentially shut down for a year. The APD mill there is down to just one shift of workers per day. Both are located on the Alberni inlet.

The Campbell River pulp mill sits empty on about a mile of prime shoreline.

While the loss of jobs devastated those small towns, they have reinvented themselves as destinations for tourism and sport fishing. Reclaiming the abandoned mill sites would help, not hinder, their economic prosperity.

Tim Ennis, senior project manager for the Kus-kus-sum project, believes there may be many opportunities on the B.C. coast to restore former sawmill sites located in estuaries, without negative impacts to the forest economy.

That’s because trucking has replaced marine-based transport as the preferred method of transporting logs and newer government regulations are more restrictive in estuarine environments. So the forest industry doesn’t rely on the use of estuaries as it did in the past.

Campbell River led the way

Project Watershed has viewed the restoration of three sawmill sites in the Campbell River estuary as a model for their Kus-kus-sum project.

Ennis managed the Campbell River project. At the time, he was the director of land stewardship for the B.C. region of the Nature Conservancy of Canada, which purchased the former Raven Lumber sawmill property as well as two smaller operations in the estuary.

He is now the senior project manager for Kus-kus-sum, as well as the executive director of the Comox Valley Land Trust, and brings his experience from much larger restoration projects.

“Compared to the Campbell River situation,” Ennis said. “The Field Sawmill site does not appear to be nearly as complex to restore and offers a huge potential benefit for the community.”

The projects are similar, he said, in that both are being led by nonprofit organizations. One of the Campbell River mills, known locally as Ocean Blue, closely resembled the Field Sawmill site, including a solid wall fronting the river.

But there are also critical differences.

The Campbell River City Council was committed to de-industrializing the river estuary. The city created an estuary management commission, which developed an estuary management plan. That plan included a conscious effort to relocate industrial operations away from the estuary.

So there was considerable political support in Campbell River, which was matched by the city’s financial contribution of approximately 25 percent of the land acquisition costs.

The City of Courtenay, on the other hand, was not the source of inspiration for restoring the Fields Sawmill site. Kus-kus-sum has been primarily driven by NGO and First Nations leadership.

And the City Council has not yet committed itself to any degree of financial support toward acquisition costs.

They have waived property taxes for two years while Project Watershed raises acquisition funds. But the eventual title will name the city as part owners of the property.

Nor has the Town of Comox or the Comox Valley Regional District made commitments, both of which stand to benefit as much as Courtenay from eliminating this eyesore on a main transportation corridor.

Fortunately, the K’omoks First Nations are committed and strong partners on the Kus-kus-sum project.

Not only are the K’omoks chief, council, band administration and Guardian Watchman department onside, nearly every K’omoks band member has signed a petition supporting the cause.

The Campbell River Indian Band was not as active.

If Kus-kus-sum succeeds, it will build on the restoration momentum from Campbell River, and set the stage for a much grander opportunity: to inspire and support the restoration of other abandoned sawmill sites throughout the B.C. coast.

How you can help

Kus-kus-sum needs community financial support in order to leverage the millions of dollars needed from granting organizations and the federal and provincial governments. Their website makes it easy to donate.

 

The Ocean Blue site in Campbell River before restoration

The Ocean Blue site after restoration

 

Waste to energy discussion missed the GHG point

Waste to energy discussion missed the GHG point

Prime Minister Justin Trudeau has committed Canada to aggressive reductions in our annual greenhouse gas emissions by 2030. It will take a coordinated national effort to get there, and that means small communities across the country, like the Comox Valley, must be constantly thinking of new ways to reduce its carbon footprint.

And yet, that doesn’t appear to be the dominant mindset among Comox Valley municipal staff and elected officials. They’re fixated on keeping taxes as low as possible.

A meeting this week of the Comox Strathcona Waste Management board’s special committee to explore the benefits of converting municipal waste to energy (WTE) provided a case in point.

According to a consultant’s report, which compared three different WTE technologies, if the north Island continues to bury its garbage in the Pigeon Lake landfill, we will produce 821,000 tonnes of carbon dioxide equivalent (CO2e) over the next 40-year period.

The worst (highest) CO2e emissions from any of the three reviewed WTE technologies was only 179,000 tonnes.

And one of the technologies would achieve a net reduction of CO2e by -777,000 tonnes.

In other words, by implementing WTE technology, the entire north Island could reduce its greenhouse gas emissions from solid waste by at least 80 percent, and possibly by roughly 200 percent.

So it should boggle the mind of anyone concerned about climate change that those facts weren’t the main topic of discussion.

Instead, the committee members and staff spent two hours debating the confusing cost comparisons in the consultant’s report. And the report was confusing, if not seriously flawed.

It’s important to have an accurate comparison between the cost of the existing landfill operation and any new WTE technology. Elected officials need that data to make informed decisions, and seek federal and provincial funding.

And the public wants cost information, too. Of course.

But, holy cow, the environmental benefits of any WTE solution for disposing of household and commercial garbage are overwhelming and undeniable.

It should have been the main topic of discussion, had the consultant’s report not obfuscated the monetary issues.

Landfills account for 20 percent of Canada’s methane emissions, which are 25 times more potent in accelerating global warming than other greenhouse gases. It may be the single largest impact that regional districts can have on the national GHG reduction target.

That’s why the recommendation by Comox Valley Regional District staff was so shocking, and out of step with the mission of the WTE committee.

Staff recommended the committee discontinue looking at WTE solutions until 2022, primarily because landfilling was portrayed as the least expensive option.

But until CVRD staff prepare more accurate cost comparisons, that’s not a proven fact.

In either case, the recommendation sends the message that although landfilling may pollute more and accelerate global warming, it will keep our taxes lower.

And that, unfortunately, appears to be a common mindset among too many within Comox Valley municipal governments.

We expect our elected officials to spend our tax dollars wisely, and make prudent decisions. But there’s a new paradigm that injects environmental factors into the definition of prudence.

And that’s the kind of thinking that will save this planet from the disastrous effects of climate change.

CVRD internal tension builds over waste to energy report

CVRD internal tension builds over waste to energy report

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.

 

No boil-water advisories in Cumberland

No boil-water advisories in Cumberland

Photo: A view of Allen Lake, in the Perseverance Creek watershed. Courtesy of the Village of Cumberland.

While Courtenay and Comox residents suffer through another boil-water advisory this week, clear and drinkable water flows freely in the Village of Cumberland.

For Cumberland Mayor Leslie Baird that fact alone justifies her council’s decision to not join the Courtenay-Comox water system. But she also likes to point out that the village will save millions of dollars for its taxpayers.

Because while those other Comox Valley elected officials search for the financing to build a $110 million water filtration plant, Cumberland has already received a $4.9 million grant to fund the $6 million first stage of its long-term water quality and supply system improvement plan.

Joining the Courtenay-Comox system would have cost Cumberland taxpayers $26.7 million upfront and annual operating costs of $600,000.

Bringing their own system up to current provincial standards will cost $6 million now (80 percent funded by the provincial Clean Water, Wastewater fund), another $6.5 million for further improvements through 2066, and annual operating costs of $255,000.

It was a clear-cut financial decision, Mayor Baird said, and it provides the village with water security for the next 50 years.

How the water system works

Cumberland Manager of Operations Rob Crisfield said the village’s water supply comes from five lakes in two separate watersheds — Allen Lake in the Perseverance Creek watershed, and Hamilton, Stevens and Henderson lakes and Pond. No. 2 in the Cumberland Creek watershed.

The five lakes in two watersheds that comprise the Cumberland water supply. The village has a license for future use of Vanwest Lakes.

A deep well drilled in Coal Creek Historic Park opened in 2013. It adds a groundwater supply to the watersheds’ surface water sources.

The system operates on nine water licenses, some issued as early as 1897, and serves Cumberland and everyone in the Royston water service area. The village owns all of the land around the lakes, but not all of the land in the watersheds.

That means the system is less susceptible to harmful logging practices in terms of the turbidity issue that plagues the Courtenay-Comox system. Cumberland has not issued any boil-water advisories.

However, some of the infrastructure in the hills above the village is more than 100 years old. While it’s been maintained well, many upgrades are necessary and underway.

Henderson Lake has the lowest elevation of the four lakes in the Cumberland Creek watershed, so its outflow makes the connection to the village’s water supply. It merges with a line from Allen Lake.

Where water lines from the two watersheds come together, the water is treated with chlorine. It then descends down to Cumberland via a single, one kilometer long 300 mm diameter pipe, before splitting again into two main trunk lines servicing different parts of the village.

What’s happening now

The village is installing a second “twinned” 300 mm pipe so it can regulate the flow from each watershed based on the amount of water stored in the lakes. That work should finish in mid-December.

Future work will include adding a new facility that will provides both UV and chlorine treatment. It will also switch from chlorine gas to sodium hypochlorite, which poses fewer risks for operators.

The village will also construct two new reservoirs to increase water storage capacity. One will go out to tender in the spring, along with the new UV treatment facility. The second reservoir will be built by the year 2040.

Sediment washing into Comox Lake through Perseverance Creek after a major rain event in 2014

Crisfield said the village will repair and replace some of its dams, most importantly the Pond No. 2 dam, which failed in December of 1972, causing a washout of the Henderson Lake dam. Both the Henderson dam and No. 2 dam were rebuilt in 1973, with a spillway out of Cumberland Creek watershed and into Perseverance Creek.

It was this spillway that undercut a kilometer-long 50-foot high bank during a major rain event in 2014. The ensuing slide washed sentiment, including clay particles, into Perseverance Creek and ultimately into Comox Lake, the source of drinking water for Courtenay and Comox. Following the slide, a the Comox Valley Regional District issued a boil-water advisory for Courtenay-Comox residents that lasted 49 days.

Crisfield said other dams will get either seismic stabilization, such as Stevens Lake did in 2014, or be completely rebuilt over time to meet the Canadian Dam Safety Guidelines in future years.

How residents benefit

When all the projects are completed, Cumberland and Royston will have a secure supply of water through 2066 that meets B.C. Drinking Water Guidelines. The more reliable and controllable system will reduce risks to human life, the water supply and the environment from a major earthquake.

The village was able to lift its moratorium on development in 2014 after opening the Coal Creek deep groundwater well.

It will surprise some that Cumberland is the fastest growing community in the Comox Valley. According to the 2016 Census statistics, the village grew by 5.6 percent to 3,600 residents. That beats Courtenay, Comox and all three regional districts, which each grew by 4.7 percent.

It’s even more surprising that during that same period of growth, Cumberland has reduced its demand for water by 41 percent, according to the June 2016 study by Koers & Associates Engineering Ltd. Cumberland residents used 49 percent less water and Royston residents used 17 percent less.

The lower water usage resulted from a new rate structure and the installation of water meters at all residential and commercial connections. People just naturally used less water. And the meters revealed many service leaks, which have been repaired.

Crisfield said once all these surface supply improvements are in place, Cumberland will have improved redundancy and reliability on water delivery, improved water quality and greater flexibility in how they can operate the supply system.

What’s next
  • The biggest challenge confronting Cumberland is how to rebuild the Pond No. 2 dam; specifically where to direct its spillway. If it goes toward Cumberland Creek, it could affect water quality in the village’s system. If it goes into Perseverance Creek, it could erode more sediment into Comox Lake. Crisfield hopes that a study underway by Tetra Tech consulting engineers, of Nanaimo, will find a solution to that problem.
  • Meanwhile, Crisfield is interested in the possibility of generating hydroelectricity by adding turbines into the system’s water lines. Due to the large elevation drop, there may be sufficient pressure to power the water treatment operations.

 

Ruth Masters — environmentalist

Ruth Masters — environmentalist

Editor’s Note: This obituary was submitted by the family

Ruth Jessie Masters was a war veteran, avid hiker, historian, naturalist, environmentalist, protester but maybe most importantly she was one of ours – born and raised in the Comox Valley. She was born at St. Joseph’s Hospital in Comox on May 7, 1920. She passed away peacefully at the new North Island Hospital in Courtenay on November 7, 2017. She was 97 years old.  

Ruth lived almost her entire life in her own home, which she built on her parents’ property in Courtenay. She served in the Canadian Air Force as a clerk in England during World War II and was promoted to Sergeant. In Courtenay she worked as a legal secretary from 1952 until 1992. Ruth was an avid hiker throughout most of her life. She made her first hike up Mt. Becher with her family in 1933 when she was just 13 and five years later climbed Comox Glacier and became one of the first members of the Comox District Mountaineering Club.

Ruth was a dedicated local historian. She never forgot her time spent oversees during the War and she never forgot the many who did not return. She spent countless hours researching names on the local Cairn and then lobbied the provincial government to name lakes and mountains in the area for many of the soldiers who served in both the first and second world wars. Her detailed compendium, “Lest We Forget” is on display in the Courtenay Museum

Ruth also compiled other local history books that are on display at the Courtenay and Cumberland Museums – ‘Courtenay’, ‘Forbidden Plateau’, and ‘Ginger Goodwin’, each one leather-bound and engraved by Ruth. They are all probably best thought of as loving gifts from Ruth to the people of the Comox Valley. 

Ruth was an environmentalist before the word was invented. She was passionate about the need to protect wildlife and the natural world.  She always spoke up for those without a voice and always fought to protect the natural beauty of her homeland, especially Strathcona Park and the Comox Valley.

Ruth was known to put her body between bears and trophy hunters. She was on the beaches in Tofino in 1989 to clean up after the infamous Exxon Valdez oil spill. She carved up road-kill and drove them in her little red truck to wildlife rescue centres for food in both Parksville and the Comox Valley.

She could always be counted on to help out with blockades, protests and rallies to protect the environment.  When mining threatened Strathcona Park she blew “Oh Canada” on her faithful harmonica at almost every arrest during the three-month standoff at Buttle Lake in the middle of the winter in 1988. She was a ‘master’ sign-maker, making directional signs for alpine trails and protest signs for her numerous causes.

Working side by side with her good friend Melda Buchanan around 1990, Ruth played a key role in lobbying to add forestland to Seal Bay Park.  On a rainy, windy day in December 1994, along with Carol Neufeld and Fran Johnson, Ruth put her body in front of chainsaws to protect the trees in what we now all take for granted as MacDonald Wood Park in Comox.  She donated 18 acres of her own land in Courtenay for the Masters Greenway and Wildlife Corridor

Ruth ‘walked her talk’ and that is why so many remember her.  She set an example for all of us for how to live on the Earth and leave it in better shape.  Growing up ‘church-mouse poor’, as she would say, she always lived a modest life but was generous to a fault, giving to environmental organizations, wildlife protection groups, the SPCA, the NDP and many, many more.

Ruth was predeceased by her father, William Edward Masters, her mother Jessie Smith, and her only brother Bill. She is survived by her nephew James Edward Masters, distant relatives in Victoria and Ontario, and her God-daughter Lorrainne Dixon. 

Lorrainne was tasked with making health care decisions in Ruth’s declining years and did an admirable job. Ruth was always firm that she wanted to live out her final years in her own home.  As her health declined this was not always easy but Lorrainne held firm in respecting Ruth’s wishes and ensuring that Ruth was safe in her home.

Although she had few living relatives, Ruth built a huge family around her in the Comox Valley and in her declining years a small inner circle of that family helped Ruth stay in her own home.

Thanks must also be expressed to Ruth’s primary care giver – Yolanda Corke. Yolanda was Ruth’s daily lifeline, checking on her early each morning and afternoon and calling on volunteers when extra help was needed. More than anyone Yolanda provided the day-to-day care that allowed Ruth to remain in her home in her final years.  Yolanda was at Ruth’s side when she passed away in hospital. 

There will be a Celebration of Life for Ruth from 1 pm to 4:30 pm on Sunday December 10 at the Florence Filberg Centre – Conference Hall in Courtenay at 411 Anderton Avenue. Doors will open at 12:30. Donations may be made to the Ruth Masters Hero Spoon Award online at foundation.nic.bc.ca or by mail to North Island College Foundation, 2300 Ryan Road, Courtenay, BC, V9N 8N6, or to a charity of your choice.

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Should the north Island bury its garbage or convert it to energy?

Should the north Island bury its garbage or convert it to energy?

Photo: The new engineered landfill that will serve the entire north Island

 

THE next time you drag your trash bins to the curb, think about what happens next to that garbage.

If you have conscientiously reduced, recycled and reused, you will have sent just a small amount of waste to the Pigeon Lake dump, now known by the gentrified title, Comox Valley Waste Management Center. And chances are good that your trash bin contained mostly plastic packaging.

When it reaches the dump, workers will bury your trash, and everyone else’s, in a landfill and leave it to decompose over the next 1,000 years. During that time, in older landfills, it will leach toxic liquids into the soil and methane gas into the atmosphere.

Landfills are North America’s third largest source of methane, which is 25 times more detrimental to the atmosphere than carbon dioxide.

Not long ago, the Comox Strathcona Waste Management board of directors (CSWM) thought they had so much landfill capacity that it didn’t seem urgent to explore more environmentally-friendly technologies for disposing of municipal garbage.

The Ministry of the Environment and Climate Change Strategy (ENV) approved the CSWM Solid Waste Management Plan in 2013, and an amended plan in 2016 to permit construction of a new engineered landfill at Pigeon Lake that will contain toxic liquids and capture methane gas.

The new landfill is so big, the size of 11 CFL football fields, that it is projected to hold the entirety of the north Island region’s municipal waste for at least 20 years.

But what happens then, and do new technologies offer a better solution?

Director Rod Nichol

Those are the questions newly-elected Area B Director Rod Nichol started asking three years ago. Those questions led him to technologies that convert waste-to-energy (WTE).

Nichol’s efforts gained enough support on the CSWM board to formally explore the latest technologies that transform undiverted municipal solid wastes (MSW) into energy or recyclable materials. His goal was to reduce the volume of garbage buried in the new landfill and extend its usable life.

On Nov. 28, a special WTE committee, which Nichol chairs, will consider the recommendations of a consultant who has reviewed three different  proposals to cope with the north Island’s garbage problem — Eco Waste Solutions, Sustane Technologies and WTT Technology.

It’s anticipated the technology review will answer several questions about waste-to-energy:

Do any of the WTE proposals provide sustainable and environment-friendly solutions? Will they reduce the cost of dumping? Will they undermine the progress of waste reduction programs? And will the provincial government even allow WTE when the north Island diversion rate is still well under 60 percent?

Waste to energy solutions

Two of the three proposals the CSWM board will consider appear to involve some form of burning waste to directly or indirectly produce energy or fuel.

While incineration is common in Europe, British Columbia has only one active WTE plant in Burnaby (built in 1988). And none of the applicant companies appear to have working models in Canada or the United States.

On its website, Eco Waste Solutions promotes burning undiverted residual waste in large incinerators to produce electricity. This would require a tall smokestack towering high above the Comox Valley.

Given that Island Health issued an air quality advisory for the City of Courtenay this week, and ongoing widespread concerns about the effect of wood stoves on people with certain medical conditions, it’s unlikely this proposal would garner much support.

Sustane Technologies’ website says their company has developed the technology to separate plastics from organic material, and to produce biomass fuel pellets and diesel fuel (from the plastics). It does not utilize incineration or any direct combustion.

There are other, less common, methods of turning waste to energy, such as gasification (which produces combustible gas) or pyrolysis (which produces combustible tar or bio-oil).

It’s harder to assess the third applicant, WTT Technology, from its website. The Netherlands company says it integrates mechanical and biological (composting and digestion) treatments in solutions tailor-made for each installation. It claims no harmful emissions, and does not mention incineration.

All three applicants claim their technologies can recover 90 percent of what the CSWM Center in Cumberland currently plans to bury in its new landfill. If true, that would mean the landfill could service the north Island 10 times longer than currently projected, perhaps for up to 200 years.

The technical reports submitted by the three companies and the consultant’s review will be made public a day before the CSWM’s Nov. 28 meeting.

WTE versus Zero Waste

Burning undiverted garbage (trash that can’t be recycled or reused) to generate electricity also produces emissions harmful to the atmosphere. And it makes no difference if the garbage is burned directly or converted into fuel that is burned later.

Buddy Boyd, a director of Zero Waste Canada, said the only real sustainable solution is a Zero Waste world, which he believes is possible without affecting our quality of life.

His group’s mission is “to help individuals, businesses, and governments transition to a circular economy, making the use of landfills, incinerators, and waste-to-energy plants obsolete.”

Boyd said the “so-called emerging technologies are unsustainable scams.”

“None of the proposals for the Comox Valley challenge the community to do better in living a zero waste lifestyle,” he said. “In fact, they do the opposite: They require a guaranteed supply of waste to fuel their operations and pay off the company’s capital costs.”

CSWM Director Charlie Cornfield, of Campbell River, said a zero waste world would be ideal, and to achieve it would require a massive global shift in manufacturing, packaging and education.

“We can’t change society overnight, so what do we do in the interim,” he said? “It’s better than we turn this garbage into fuel than to have it floating around like giant islands in the ocean.”

And, he called landfills a 19th century solution.

“We can’t keep throwing garbage into a hole,” he said. “Waste-to-energy is better, and will save taxpayers millions of dollars.”

Environment ministry policy

Responding to a query from Decafnation, the Ministry of Environment and Climate Change Strategy sent the following statement via email:

“Current ministry policy supports the 5R pollution prevention hierarchy … whereby waste materials are managed at the highest possible level and waste-to-energy is not undertaken unless all of the higher level options have been considered.

“The hierarchy and current ministry legislation and guidance does not preclude any form of waste-to-energy or incineration but establishes criteria that must be met in order to meet higher levels of the hierarchy instead of disposal.”

Guidance documents for waste-to-energy can be found here.

The province prefers to let regional district determine the best strategies for disposal and managing municipal solid waste.

What’s happened so far

Besides the new landfill at Pigeon Lake, the Solid Waste Management Plan calls for environmentally-mandated closure of all other landfills on the north Island, including the Campbell River landfill; building transfer stations in those communities losing landfills; and, adding a methane burners and an organic composting facility.

The CSWM also asked Nichol’ committee to study waste-to-energy technologies.

CSWM Director Brenda Leigh, from the Oyster River area, says the last time the board looked at WTE in 2010, “we learned that the cost per tonne significantly exceeded the cost of landfilling and that we did not have the volume to make WTE economically viable.”

She noted that the WTE committee has probed other municipalities about contributing their undiverted garbage to a WTE stream.

“But as far as I am aware, this proposal hasn’t advanced beyond talking,” she said.

Nichol says he has spoken to elected officials in other communities, including Victoria. But he doesn’t anticipate volume being an issue as all three companies would scale their operations to the region and its projected population growth.

Victoria Mayor Lisa Helps told Decafnation, “Without knowing precisely what technology is being considered, I think Director Nicol’s approach to look for innovative solutions to use waste as a resource is commendable. In the 21st century we need to make every effort as local governments to create closed-loop systems and limit waste.”

What happens next

If the CSWM board wants to pursue construction of a WTE plant at Pigeon Lake, it would have to amend its Solid Waste Management Plan again and get a new approval from the B.C. government. That would mean either achieving a 70 percent diversion before approval, or convincing the province to bend on this criterion.

Then regional district staff would have to work out details and negotiate with the company selected to provide the service.

Nichol said he was told this process could take 18 months or longer, but he believes it could be completed more quickly.

How Canada and B.C. rank worldwide

Canadians generate more municipal waste than all other 16 nations in the Organization for Economic Co-operation and Development (OECD), according to the Conference Board of Canada.

We’re the worst performer, producing twice as much waste in 2008 as Japan, the best performer.

British Columbia does better at reducing, recycling and reusing than every province, except Nova Scotia. But we still generate 573 kg per capita every year of un-diverted garbage that must be buried in landfills.

And that’s a far greater amount of waste per person than the new provincial guidelines.

According to the environment ministry’s “A Guide to Solid Waste Management Planning,” which supports regional districts in developing goals and targets in their solid waste planning, there are two provincial targets for 2020/21:

1) Lower the municipal solid waste disposal rate to 350 kg per person per year; and,

2) Have 75 percent of BC’s population covered by an organic waste disposal restriction. The guide can be found here