Things are looking up for an organics processing plant in the Town of Newmarket (north of Toronto) that has had a troubled past. Recent developments ensure the technology will have a chance to prove itself, but the saga that led to this point offers a cautionary tale for anyone hoping to commercialize innovative waste systems in Canada. It’s not just landfills and incinerators that incur public antipathy; even European-style composting systems can find themselves in trouble with neighbours and local government, and those local governments can get into trouble with the courts if they lose a sense of proportion when advocating on behalf of residents.
The plant in question is owned and operated by Halton Recycling — a sister company of International Paper Industries headed by businesswoman Emmie Leung, who has been a fixture in the recycling business for 29 years.
It’s no secret that Halton Recycling — which took over the plant from a previous owner — has spent millions of dollars making improvements to its organics processing system, which has two major components: an in-vessel VCU technology that aerobically composts organic solids, and German BTA technology that anaerobically digests organic liquids, and captures methane for electricity generation.
It’s the kind of small-footprint technology that almost everyone claims to prefer to waste landfilling, incineration or export. And it’s Kyoto compliant, too. But the new owners ran into trouble with bio-filters and odour control.
A couple of years ago Ontario’s environment ministry began receiving complaints about sickening odours from the plant. Nearby residents eventually formed a community group called (memorably) Residents Against Stinky Halton (or “RASH”) and complained to the Town of Newmarket, which eventually took the company to court. In fact, the town has spent more than $445,000 trying to shut Halton Recycling down. That didn’t happen, but last September the court ordered the company to close for three months and implement an action plan to fix the odour problem.
However, the town made no effort to help the company fix its odour problems and instead frustrated Halton Recycling at every turn, even when doing so defied a court order that instructed the town to issue necessary permits.
On March 2, 2007, Ontario Superior Court Justice A. Bryant decided to allow the recycling facility to open its doors, permanently. Justice Bryant is satisfied that the company is making its best effort to implement the odour control plan, but the surprising element was his reference to the town’s “abuse of process.”
In order to implement the odour control plan, Halton Recycling needed to install a bio-filter and build three out-buildings, which required permits and a site plan agreement from the town. The town refused to issue the permits and did everything it could to stall. The two parties met frequently between June and November 2005 to discuss what each side needed, yet the town waited more than five months to tell the company that further details would be required before permits would be granted.
Even then Halton Recycling thought everything was okay, not realizing that the town was withholding findings from an environmental consultants’ report (that the company had, in fact, paid for).
“The history of this litigation is that every fact becomes a contested issue,” the judge wrote. “The town’s failures (to issue court-ordered documents to Halton) … constitute an abuse of process,” he wrote, adding, “the town’s failure to comply with the court’s order thwarted the installation and operation of environmental controls during the 90-day window of opportunity.”
The judge has ruled that the plant may now remain open, though it must operate under restrictions previously set out by the environment ministry.
What can one conclude from all this?
Nearby residents of waste management facilities are entitled to their property rights, which include freedom from nuisances such as excessive noise, dust and odour. The town was right to help these citizens get their “day in court.” But municipal staff failed in their duty to also honor the rights of the private company to proper service, including approvals and permits.
Let’s face it, people oppose landfills and thermal treatment plants for garbage (at least, when they’re in their own neighbourhoods). The public is practically crying out for alternatives such as the one offered by Halton Recycling with its small urban footprint and green energy dimension. Instead of harassing companies like Halton Recycling, politicians need to work with them (unless and until they completely bomb); we desperately need successes in this area. Such plants operate all over Europe, and there’s no reason they can’t succeed here.
With the required municipal permits, Halton Recycling has started to complete its remedial action plan. The environment ministry has checked the air around the plant with its high-tech mobile TAGA unit and found no health threat from any emissions. Let’s hope the corrected system works for nuisance odours, too, and that all the parties can set aside their past differences and give Halton Recycling a chance.
To find out more about the remedial action plan or to view odour complaints, visitwww.hrl.caFor more on the legal aspects, see Regulation Roundup, page 38.
Guy Crittenden is editor of this magazine. Contact Guy at firstname.lastname@example.org