Sometime in the next few months the Squamish-Lillooet Regional District will hold a public hearing regarding Whistler’s application to expand its landfill again. Some pointed questions should be asked at that meeting before the expansion is rubber stamped.
Whistler council voted last month (5-1) to approve this latest expansion, which should provide for Whistler, Pemberton and D’Arcy’s garbage needs until 2008. Pemberton and D’Arcy closed their landfills last year and for the last several months their garbage has been hauled to the Whistler landfill.
Whistler council’s decision was based largely on an analysis, by Stanley Consulting Group Ltd., of the expansion option versus exporting garbage to a drier climate to be buried. Municipal staff said it would cost taxpayers an additional $1 million per year to export garbage, while expanding the landfill would be not only cheaper but also contribute $300,000 annually to an environmental legacy fund.
The proposed environmental legacy fund is the carrot that appears to have led most councillors to support another landfill expansion. Not only will the expansion be done to the highest environmental standards, it will cost less than exporting and, based on the current landfill tipping fees, will generate an excess $300,000 each year. The interest from this fund is proposed to be used for environmental projects.
Ted Milner, who was elected on a platform stressing fiscal responsibility, is the only member of council to question the wisdom of storing garbage in a wet, high alpine environment next to a river. Milner, and others, have argued that the landfill is something Whistler will have to look after forever, regardless of how carefully the latest expansion is engineered. Moreover, even if the landfill expansion is perfectly safe and trouble free, the original landfill did not have a liner, until recently, and leachate has permeated the soil around that site. Looking after that material could become a legacy in itself.
Those who support the expansion point out that one of the tenants of environmentalism is looking after your own waste, and suggest that exporting garbage would not be the responsible thing to do but would put the problem out of sight and out of mind.
But that answer flies in the face of a couple of things. For one, the analysis by Stanley Consulting Group proposes a more detailed evaluation of Whistler’s long-term options for disposing of garbage be carried out as early as 2004. In other words, the landfill is only a temporary solution.
Secondly, the present landfill site is already out of sight and out of mind for most people in Whistler.
There have also been questions about what impact extending the life of the landfill will have on Whistler’s black bears and about how another landfill expansion would affect plans to some day develop the south side of Whistler Mountain.
However, perhaps the biggest question to be asked of the landfill expansion plan is: should it be used to fund municipal programs? There’s nothing morally wrong with that — that’s what Cache Creek and other communities do, they charge people to store their garbage for them. But most communities that do that are in an arid climate and a geologically stable environment. For any town that doesn’t have those conditions, the risks of storing garbage are obviously much greater.
Can Whistler afford to export its garbage? Municipal staff say it would cost an extra $1 million per year. Can Whistler afford to store its, and other towns’ garbage? That cost hasn’t been pinned down.