Officials in a Michigan county have secured a tentative agreement to limit the amount of Canadian garbage shipped to the Pine Tree Acres landfill near New Haven. The agreement achieves something that state legislators and Congress have so far not been able to accomplish: slowing waste exports from Canada to Michigan.
The landfill is Michigan’s busiest, and the top destination in the state for garbage coming from Canada. The pact was negotiated with Waste Management Inc., and if approved by county and local officials, will the first successful effort at reducing the Canadian exports.
County Commissioner Keith Rengert is a Richmond Township Republican who served as lead negotiator for the county. Under the “county host agreement” reached with Waste Management, the company agrees to limit Canadian refuse to 25 percent of capacity at the Lenox Township facility. Currently, nearly 80 percent of the trash flowing into the site — about 350 trucks per day — comes from across the border.
Waste Management also guarantees that Pine Tree Acres will take in all of the county’s solid waste for at least the next 25 years.
Because of imports, projections indicate the landfill could have run out of space within five years. The facility was intended to handle all of the county’s waste until at least 2021.
In exchange for the two new provisions, the county agreed to expand the size of the site from 565 acres to 755 acres. The additional property, already owned by Waste Management, would “square off” the site so that the landfill would encompass all of the land between 28 Mile and 29 Mile roads, just east of Gratiot, and extending west to a residential area on County Line Road.
Waste Management has also agreed to pay the county 55 cents per ton for out-of-state waste buried there, which could generate nearly a million dollars per year. The revenues from this “capacity fee” could fund environmental protection services or recycling programs. The fee would increase annually by three-fourths of the inflation rate.
The agreement must receive approval from the 26-member county Board of Commissioners and from two-thirds of Macomb’s communities — the 27 cities, villages and townships. The accord will face its first test when it’s taken up by the county board’s Planning and Economic Development Committee.
One limitation of the pact is that it won’t immediately reduce the number of Canadian trucks flowing into Macomb County, because the restrictions apply not to trucks but to overall landfill space — limiting Canadian garbage to 25 percent of Pine Tree Acres’ long-term capacity, or 189 acres.
Waste Management could respond by gradually reducing the amount of waste accepted from Canada, or it could continue at the current rate and face a cutoff of all Canadian waste in approximately six years. The company hopes to eventually win approval for two new landfills in Ontario.
The pact, three years in the making, succeeds in placing limits on Canadian waste after numerous political efforts have failed to produce results. Governor Jennifer Granholm, U.S. Senators Carl Levin and Debbie Stabenow and dozens of federal lawmakers and state legislators have sponsored or supported legislation to stem the flow of Canadian waste imports. Legislation pending in Congress would give each state the authority to block cross-border trash shipments. In the state Legislature, bills are in the works that would halt Canadian imports if and when the federal legislation passes.
But a court challenge from the waste industry is certain if the legislative process moves forward. Some legal experts doubt that the congressional and state restrictions comply with the North American Free Trade Agreement.
The volume of imported trash disposed at Pine Tree Acres has more than tripled since 2002. Last year, the landfill handled 5.3 million cubic yards of Canadian refuse — enough to fill nearly 1,000 football fields with garbage stacked three feet high. Waste Management officials say a compacting process reduces that volume by one third, and emerging technologies could extend the life of Pine Tree Acres for several decades.
The county’s bid to slow the Canadian caravan began in 2003 when a resolution authored by Rengert was adopted by the county board. That non-binding resolution called on Waste Management to guarantee 25 years of capacity for Macomb’s garbage and to limit the Canadian volume to 25 percent of the county total.
Last year, Pine Tree Acres disposed 1.3 million cubic yards of Macomb County trash. Most of the county’s 27 communities rely on the facility, though some of the largest cities, such as Warren, St. Clair Shores and Roseville, ship their waste to other counties. Lenox Township has maintained a host agreement with Waste Management, similar to the proposed county agreement, that pays the township 43 cents per cubic yard of trash. That fee generates more than $2 million a year for Lenox.
If the county board approves the agreement, approvals are still needed from the county Solid Waste Planning Committee, the 27 Macomb communities and the state Department of Environmental Quality. The entire process could take between seven and 15 months.
Details of agreement
— Limits Canadian waste to 25 percent of landfill space at Pine Tree Acres.
— Expands landfill from 565 acres to 755 acres.
— Guarantees space for Macomb County’s garbage for at least 25 years.
— Charges a fee of 55 cents per ton for out-of-state waste.