“I must say with a sigh that that lovely big hole in the ground has just about become the grave for our dreams for a viable private landfill business in Ontario.”
So said James Temple, district manager of Waste Management Inc. (WMI), to delegates at the Ontario Industrial Waste Conference in 1982. Mr. Temple was referring to the Maple Gravel Pits in Vaughan that WMI had acquired in hopes of developing a large private-sector landfill for the City of Toronto’s trash. But the city had expropriated the pits and paid WMI just $40-million for what would become a billion-dollar public waste disposal enterprise known as the Keele Valley landfill.
Mr. Temple was disappointed yet the company’s dream of burying Toronto’s refuse in a private-sector repository is set to materialize. On July 21 Toronto’s joint committee of public works and finance voted 11-to-3 to have the city’s garbage rail-hauled 600 kilometres north for disposal in the abandoned Adam’s Mine ore pit near Kirkland Lake. WMI is the largest partner in the Rail*Cycle*North consortium that won the contract and will develop and manage the project.
The final details must still be negotiated, but Toronto and the surrounding regions of Peel, York and Durham plan to ship their annual 1.3-million tonnes of post-recycling municipal garbage to the mine for the next 20 years. Toronto will continue to divert about 250,000 tonnes of its waste and export 500,000 tonnes of commercial garbage it receives to a Republic Services landfill in Michigan.
Toronto’s waste disposal saga dates back to a master plan developed by consultants from James F. MacLaren Ltd. in 1967 that envisioned both landfill and incineration. In 1972, Norman Goodhead — a former North York reeve — sold his Disposal Services Ltd. and its 43-acre disposal site in the Maple pits to WMI, then quarterbacked the company’s attempt to expand the pits as the landfill component of the MacLaren plan. Interestingly, Mr. Goodhead was the political mentor of Paul Godfrey who became chairman of Metropolitan Toronto in 1973 — a position he held for many years. Mr. Godfrey supported the Goodhead/WMI landfill plan right up to the point when it was derailed by the local union of public employees and then-NDP councilor Richard Gilbert who proposed Toronto’s expropriation of the Maple pits. (Ironically, Mr. Gilbert now consults for the waste incineration lobby.)
Despite having left politics, Paul Godfrey is widely regarded as the person who pulls the strings of Mel Lastman, Toronto’s current mayor. Mayor Lastman favors the Adam’s Mine project and his staff lobbied committee members and counselors to approve it. It’s not difficult to imagine Mr. Godfrey encouraging the mayor to support a project that’s remarkably similar to the one he promoted years ago. Also, Deputy Mayor Case Ootes, who also sits on the public works committee, has close ties with the provincial conservatives. Premier Mike Harris is from North Bay (as is Adam’s Mine owner Gordon McGuinty) and will certainly appreciate this political gift.
That political maneuvering should attend a contract award estimated at $1-billion comes as no surprise, but the role of the Adam’s Mine’s Tory lobbyist Geoff Lyons was hard to imagine since the city imposed a lobby ban. But Mike Harris did announce the province would block city staff’s preferred option to extend the life of Keele Valley a few years by sending some garbage to three other landfills. (This would have saved municipal taxpayers $65-million.)
Toronto has known for two decades that Keele Valley would eventually fill, and the search for a new disposal option has always mixed politics with trash.
In his book Giants of Garbage, Harold Crooks recounts the story of Envacc Resources, a private consortium whose omnivorous 1989 plan to handle all of Toronto’s garbage was abandoned after an article by Globe & Mail reporter Jock Ferguson revealed that Envacc’s backer was a prominent developer who had contributed huge sums to the Liberal government of the time. Premier David Peterson’s father was apparently offered an interest in the project in exchange for help selling the concept to his son.
In 1990 a group of concerned doctors defeated a proposal from Ogden Martin to ring Toronto with three $500-million incinerators. The scheme was developed in response to a tender from a crown agency named, in Orwellian fashion, the Solid Waste Interim Steering Committee. SWISC was established by the Liberals but was modeled on an old idea of Paul Godfrey’s to create a regional waste authority that would usurp Toronto decision making (and expedite approval of WMI’s plan for the Maple pits).
In the early 1990s, NDP environment minister Ruth Grier’s Interim Waste Authority squandered more than $100-million on a failed attempt to locate three huge landfills on the outskirts of town. The affair contributed to the NDP’s misfortunes in the 1995 election.
Toronto first studied the Adam’s Mine with a view to owning and operating it; millions were spent on options and reports. It’s ironic that the city dropped the public project but has agreed to the private-sector version. Time will tell whether or not the mine’s unique leachate containment system (that relies on inward groundwater flow) will work. Toronto’s deal with Rail*Cycle*North is not a put-or-pay contract and there’s no penalty for waste reduction. Toronto is evaluating new technologies (see article, page 24). So time will also tell if the city is serious about progressive waste diversion strategies and technologies, or if it will remain content sending its garbage to Mr. Temple’s “lovely big hole in the ground” dreamt on a Pharaohnic scale.