Whistler councillors have decided to expand the landfill a second time — increasing its lifetime to at least 2008 — rather than export solid waste to landfills in drier, more stable climates.
The move to expand the landfill will, according to municipal staff, save the municipality about $1 million annually over the cost of exporting garbage.
However, due to a 30 per cent reduction in the volume of garbage going to the landfill, and a corresponding reduction in tipping fees collected, the municipality’s proposed environmental legacy fund has been reduced from $600,000 annually to $300,000 per year.
The decision was opposed by Councillor Ted Milner, who said: "It’s a basic truth that you don’t store garbage in a wet, high alpine area."
Milner raised a number of concerns, including leachate into the soil from the original garbage dump (which was not lined until recently), the impact of the landfill on the bear population, the possibility that future federal or provincial governments may set more stringent environmental regulations for the landfill, that the site may become an eyesore for future expansion plans on the south side of Whistler Mountain, and that he has been led to understand the waste water treatment centre cannot treat all the leachate material being generated now.
"I voted for the phase I expansion (of the landfill) because it gave us time (to analyze the expansion option against export options)," Milner said.
"But I think (further) expansion of the landfill is unacceptable."
Director of Public Works John Nelson responded that the treatment plant is capable of collecting and treating all leachate and that the leachate itself is "not highly toxic."
The phase I expansion of the landfill, which was recently completed, is a modern, engineered landfill site with a liner which collects leachate. The phase II expansion would be of similar design.
However, the original landfill site was not lined until recently. Consequently there is 20 years of leachate material in the soil next to the original landfill.
"The leachate we can collect in engineered cels is not a problem," said Brian Barnett, manager of environmental services for the municipality. "It’s the leachate in the soil before the liner was put in."
Barnett said it’s not known how much leachate from the original landfill is captured, but "the leachate isn’t having any impact on the Cheakamus River. We can say that with absolute confidence."
Speaking to each of Milner’s points, Nelson noted that while government regulations regarding maintaining landfills could change, so too could regulations regarding exporting of garbage.
"One of the premises of environmental sustainability is taking care of your own waste," Nelson added.
The decision to expand the landfill a second time was based largely on an analysis of the expansion and export options by Stanley Consulting Group Ltd. In addition to recommending the phase II expansion, to extend the life of the landfill to 2008, the report proposes a more detailed evaluation of long-term options be carried out in 2004 to provide a basis for a decision on a program for 2009 and beyond.
Squamish has also decided to extend the life of its landfill to at least 2008, rather than export garbage. Pemberton and other communities in the north end of the corridor have closed their landfills and their solid waste is brought to the Whistler landfill.
All landfills in the corridor were scheduled to close by 2000 when the member communities of the Squamish-Lillooet Regional District drew up their Regional District Solid Waste Management Plan back in 1996. The management plan will now have to be revised.
In addition to environmental concerns with the landfill expansion, Milner suggested the difference in cost between the expansion and export options is less than $1 million annually.
"Taxpayers should know the $300,000 legacy fund is direct taxpayer dollars," Milner said. "I think it should be a line item in our budget."
"It’s our storage of the garbage that’s paying for that legacy fund, it’s not money we have," Milner added.