Perspectives on the Otter Lake Landfill Dispute
My editorial “The Otter Lake Landfill Dispute: Stealing defeat from the jaws of victory?” in the last edition (August/September 2013) triggered a lot of reaction, judging by the letters we received and calls from people in Nova Scotia, who were apparently very happy with it. (At least, those opposed to recent actions of the Halifax Regional Municipality. Readers will recall that the HRM is holding “consultations” on the idea of potentially changing how residual waste is landfilled at the facility, which currently requires pre-treatment (stabilization) as per a host community agreement. So, our Up Front news section in this edition is devoted to reproducing some of those letters, which shed additional light on what’s happening with the situation.
Thanks for making this article a best seller in our troubled community. It nailed all of our concerns which hopefully will encourage others outside our city and province to comment on. I enjoy reading every issue of your magazine as it covers so many interesting topics. It truly emphasizes that those of us who are working hard to protect our environment by improving services are not alone.
September 19 will be our first community consultation (town hall meeting) where the public surrounding Otter Lake Landfill is invited to express their views. Hopefully the press will be all over this one and accurately report what was said. All meetings will be recorded. We do have a Facebook page which Ken Donnelly manages and is open to the public to comment on. “Like” us if you can. Over 600 residents attended the last meeting and we hope to double the number this time.
Thanks again for you interest in our community.
Chairman, Glengarry Homeowners Association
Please find attached a letter I sent the councilors of the Halifax Regional Municipality. It reads this:
I was a member of the Original CSC, which devised the solid waste strategy that permitted the siting of the Otter Lake Landfill. I attend most of the meetings over the 13 months that it took to hammer out the strategy. I have also attended a few of the current meetings which it seems HRM has initiated as a means of satisfying the requirement for public consultations before they implement the changes that staff have already decided upon.
The original consultation meetings were controlled by the stakeholders and were often passionate, intense affairs. Everyone was allowed the opportunity to voice their opinion and propose their ideas of how they felt the system should function. All proposals were subject to examination and questioning with the proponents on hand to defend their ideas. No wonder it took 13 months to arrive at a solution that was acceptable to all parties.
The current meetings are far different. HRM is controlling them and clearly trying to sell their message rather than determine what the public wants. The agenda is predetermined and consists of a lengthy propaganda presentation by HRM staff of the conclusions an engineering (Stantec) report that was commissioned by staff and which appears to have been written for the sole purpose of supporting staff’s preconceived proposals regarding changes to the current system.
When Citizens attempt to questions the findings of this report their questions are either ignored or the questioners told to be quite and allow the agenda to proceed. The consulting firm that is “facilitating” these meetings on behalf of HRM then skillfully herds the participants off to separate tables where they are directed to discuss the topics that were chosen by HRM. These discussion topics such as “what do you appreciate most about the current system” seem to be designed to direct attention away from the contentious issues such as why HRM is contemplating reneging on its promises to the Host Community and the inaccuracies and faulty logic in the Stantec report.
Wikipedia defines Public Consultation as:
“A regulatory process by which the public’s input on matters affecting them is sought. Its main goals are in improving the efficiency, transparency and public involvement in large-scale projects or laws and policies. Consultation (a two-way flow of information and opinion exchange) as well as participation (involving interest groups in the drafting of policy or legislation).”
It took 13 months of exhaustive consultations to develop the strategy that permitted the siting of the landfill. The CSC consultations of 1995 clearly meet the definition of a public consultation.
Wikipedia has also defined what HRM is doing:
“Ineffective consultations are considered to be cosmetic consultations that were done due to obligation or show and not true participatory decision making.”
Unfortunately for it’s citizens HRM, it seems clear, has this time chosen to hold “ineffective consultations” to support the decisions that staff has already made.
How can HRM believe that they can mandate that major changes to the system that was implemented based on the strategy will be concluded after one month of consultations? How can they call these meetings public consultations when the public is not allowed to ask questions and interest groups are told they should step aside and remain quite.
The citizens of HRM are prepared to discuss improvements to the plan but the current so called “public consultations” is not fostering this.
As one of the citizens said in a meeting in Porter’s Lake, “There are ways that the effectiveness of the waste/resource plan can be improved but we never get to discuss them as we are constantly having to defend the host community from HRMs proposed breach of their promises regarding the safeguards that were put in place to protect the host community.”
This seems to be developing into a battle of David vs Goliath. With HRM having all the taxpayer funding available to arm themselves with engineering and PR firms and the host community as represented by the CMC and concerned citizens relegated to the use of a sling and a stone.
In order for the Public Consultations to be true Consultations:
• They must allow the public, including the interest groups the opportunity to speak freely and to air their views on the matter. No one should be told to stay quiet.
• Not be restricted solely to subjects that HRM wishes to discuss.
• Have the authors of the Stantec report available to answer questions regarding the data and methodology used to prepare their report and to explain their conclusions.
• Fund the CMC so that they may commission their own independent review to either support or refute Stantec’s report.
• Extend the process beyond the one-month period that was arbitrarily determined to the time that is necessary for a true public consultation with every citizen having the opportunity to speak his or her mind on the subject.
Philip R. Phaneuf
Re: Resolving the Otter Lake Dispute
Your editorial “The Otter Lake Dispute” in
the August/September issue of Solid Waste and Recycling is well researched and timely. The fundamentals underlying the dispute are to be found in HRM’s decision, in the 1990s, to cancel the contract for an energy-from-waste facility to be built in Dartmouth (the wrong side of Halifax harbor) and to accept a consultant’s recommendation to try out an unproven waste disposal process promoted as “stabilized landfill.”
HRM proceeded to purchase an 80 hectare uninhabited site on the western edge of Halifax, called Otter Lake. The site provided acreage for nine landfill cells and the required waste processing infrastructure. The Otter Lake complex was officially opened in October 1998, with much fanfare and high expectations. From day one HRM’s waste diversion accomplishments were over shadowed by the dismal failure of the stabilized landfills. Over the years, Otter Lake’s waste processing costs and environmental concerns escalated to the point where HRM was forced to bring in a consultant to study the problems and recommend remedial initiatives.
HRM’s consultant recommended that HRM’s interest in converting residual waste to energy (a viable option) be deferred to some time in the future, that HRM should apply to the Ministry of the Environment to lower the landfill environment protection standards, and that HRM should apply to the ministry to allow the landfill cell lift (height) to increase up to 15 meters on existing and future cells. These recommendations will not solve the dispute and Otter Lake’s cost and environmental problems will progressively worsen.
The stabilized landfill cells have generated high construction and maintenance costs, exacerbated wind blown refuse, produced high levels of noxious landfill gas requiring complicated gas control procedures, produced excessive volumes of toxic leachate that require off-site disposal and forced high front-end processing costs.
In your editorial you concluded with the adage “if it ain’t broke, why fix it?.” HRM officials know only to well that Otter Lake is “broke” and has to be “fixed.” The consultant brought in to assess the situation has failed to recommend the obvious and sensible fix. The obvious waste management strategy for Otter Lake is to construct an EFW facility to convert residual waste to energy.
An energy-from-waste facility will eliminate future costly landfills and their health and environmental liabilities, generate a significant revenue stream from the sale of electrical and thermal energy, reduce greenhouse gas emissions by approximately 150,000 tonnes per year, extend the lifecycle of Otter Lake by over 50 years, eliminate the need to expand the site, embrace the principles of resource conservation, enhance waste diversion programs, provide high-tech job opportunities, and attract new industry seeking low cost energy. In summary, an energy-from-waste facility will drastically reduce HRM’s overall waste management costs and bring many benefits to the community.
Municipalities across Canada, who are currently served by energy-from-waste facilities, and municipalities who are well advanced in their plans to build new EFW facilities, speak highly of the benefits accruing to their communities. Otter Lake is an exceptionally fine site for an energy-from-waste facility. HRM has a unique opportunity to defuse the current dispute and move forward with an energy-from-waste facility and again claim to have one of the best managed integrated waste management systems in Canada.
Ed. K. McLellan