In January Whistler council voted 6-1 to expand the municipal landfill a second time. Councillor Ted Milner opposed the expansion and raised a number of questions regarding the landfill and waste disposal. In February Brian Barnett, manager of municipal environmental services, responded to Milner’s concerns in a memo. Milner wasn’t satisfied and in March responded with a memo of his own. Municipal staff suggested they get together with Milner to discuss his concerns but to date no meeting has occurred. At Monday’s council meeting Milner made his March 4 memo public, the text of which follows. In response to Brian Barnett's memorandum of February 4, 1999, I remain uncomfortable with the planned expansion of the Whistler landfill site and its continued usage over the next 10 to 15 years and beyond. The memo does not directly address many of my concerns, which I have previously tabled, and significant new ones are raised. I don't think that all the stakeholders in this Plan and especially the Community members in general understand the relevant cost/benefit analysis and the inherent risks involved. To that end therefore, this memo is addressed to staff for discussion but subsequently, I intend to take unresolved issues to the Mayor and the rest of Council for public discussion. My concerns are set out under the following headings. I also address Mr. Barnett's responses under each heading. Scope & dimension - How big is Too Big? The Report to Council of January 11, 1999 requests approval to extend the land fill to year 2008 from the existing limit of 2004. The Stanley report on which Mr. Barnett bases his conclusions looks at running the landfill for 15 years out to 2014. The cost structure is based on that time frame. There is obvious discrepancy between the two time frames. The proposal anticipates 75,000 cubic meters of waster per year to be buried or up to approximately 1.125 million cubic meters in total. For comparison purposes, this amount of material far surpasses the 35,000 cubic meters per year gravel pit at 21 Mile Creek we are so concerned about. We are contemplating burying a huge amount of solid waste material. We currently accept all waste from Pemberton and all other points north in the Corridor. I understand Squamish has approved an interim extension on its landfill despite leachate leakage problems. Will Whistler ultimately contemplate accepting Squamish's solid waste too and become the SLRD Regional landfill? Is this the kind of profit generating asset we really want to develop? Mr. Barnett's memo does not deal with any overview of the "big picture" or where we're going philosophically. Last year, Council approved the Phase 1 expansion of the landfill to 2004. This replaced the Export Plan, which I believe was developed in 1995. This was to allow a proper transition to export. Now, one year later, the export option is rejected with a recommendation to bury until 2008, based upon a Plan extending to 2014. We should not use the "crawling peg expansion approval" technique. We've been storing trash for 20 years down by the Cheakamus River and it looks like another 15 years' worth is on the way... so, how much is too much? When do we get to the limit? Is Whistler the right place for a regional landfill? The Regional Landfill for the SLRD? Since the Staten Island landfill closed, the State of Virginia takes most of the waste from New York City. Now, there exists major environmental concerns as this garbage is imported to be buried near their tidal flats by the ocean. However, if the state were to close the landfill, they risk a collapse of related employment and cash flow. They are in a dilemma that we don't need to see copied here in Whistler. We need to focus on our resort business and its natural environment — not on a high impact business that detracts from that. Technical Considerations & Risk I have said that it makes no sense to store garbage in a high very wet alpine valley and I'll stick by that because precipitation causes leachate to drain from the solid waste which is difficult to contain and control. This is the classic landfill problem. Brian's background articles discuss re-circulating leachate to accelerate decomposition of the garbage elements. This apparently can be economic if a landfill is not near a waste treatment plant. We are and it doesn't help with our high precipitation. He feels that recirculating suggests that leachate need not be worried about in a wet climate. This however is not proven. There is a cost of increased odours and potential health problems. There is especially an increased risk of leachate escaping the landfill boundaries. Further, we cannot allow further and worse odours at Function Junction, even if only for aesthetic reasons. The odours alone detract form our resort and are a very serious ongoing problem as the growing levels of visitors test our various capacities. The "rogue tank" problem is a symptom. Health risks and possible escaping leachate into the Cheakamus River, diluted or not, are unacceptable. The articles on bio-degradation call for shredding the waste and layering, as well as re-circulated leachate. These techniques are not applicable in our town because of size, climate, and again the increased odour and public health implications. The most significant research article with Brian's memo was on "dry-tombing" and was sub-titled simply, "Nothing Stays Buried Forever." It was most emphatic that every liner and leachate collection system will deteriorate and fail over time. The U.S. Environmental protection Agency guidelines call for monitoring of such a scheme for at least 30 years. The scientific community is recommending a dedicated trust fund to monitor the site forever. This trust needs to be of an adequate amount to excavate all the buried waste and remove it, when required. This may well be the required use of the proposed, Environmental Legacy Fund, thereby negating any other benefits from the Fund that others may be anticipating. My concerns on seismic or geological risk are not dealt with at all. Brian notes such studies are to be carried out sometime in the future. Will that be before or after we implement the expansion? I don't believe we can make good decisions without having the facts. Environmental Sustainability I support the development of an Environmental Strategy. Waste is obviously an important part of an Environmental Strategy. If we don't deal with our waste in a well thought out and sustainable way, then the resulting strategy will be flawed. Brian indicates the leachate is diluted. Even so, we cannot in good conscience allow substantial spills into the Cheakamus River. All of the data tells us we cannot safely bury waste forever. We cannot bury a million or so cubic meters of garbage in our valley and expect to forget it forever. It is simply short-sighted and bad judgement to use perceived saving for an Environmental Legacy Fund to apply to environmental enhancement projects in one end of our valley at the expense of permanently fouling the other end. We are removing the sustainability feature from our Strategy. Environmental Insurance & Underwriting Report The environmental insurance policy currently in place is apparently for $1 million. In light of the foregoing and in the event of a real problem, this is inadequate and insignificant. Further the report by the consulting engineer for the underwriters that rates our risk acceptable was done in late 1996. It was premised quite specifically on the basis that Whistler's landfill site was to be closed in 1997 with all waste to be exported thereafter. Brian reports the insuring agent is not concerned about the expansion because the risks remain the same whether the landfill is open or not. This does not make sense to me. Regulations Now & in the Future It is reported the USA favours large destination landfills. The BC criteria are more site specific. Both sets of regulations attempt to ensure that pollution is maintained within the landfill. The Public Works Dept. feels we are in compliance with at least the BC guidelines although I noted in the material that our Operating Certificate is in draft from only. It was noted in Council that we meet the BC rules "weak as they are." This is of course exactly my point! As people continue to become increasingly concerned about the environment (eg. Note the Burns Bog debacle in the GVRD), there is little doubt there will be escalating government rules and regulation. Our Staff expect that the existing criteria will remain in effect for many years. "We believe that stricter monitoring and controls will not require significant capital or operating increments." When I went to Engineering School, unsupported expectations and beliefs with no premise just didn't do it. Current trends in fact suggest we are dead wrong. What Do Other Resorts Do? Mr. Barnett sets out the practice of waste disposal for 6 other mountain resorts including Aspen, Sun Valley, Winter Park, Col., Mammoth Lakes, Ca., Taos, New Mex., and Banff, Alberta. I have not personally visited Winter Park or Taos but it is clear from the export distances noted that nobody buries their waste in their own valley. While Aspen's distance is not recorded, I do not recall a landfill site in their valley, which we toured extensively a year ago. The export distances ran from 15 miles in a smaller resort like Mammoth to 200 miles for a large, mature resort like Sun Valley. No resort has its landfill 3 miles down the highway in its own valley, in plain view of future ski run development, and next to future intercept parking lots. Further, while not covered in the memo, I'll make book on the fact that none of these resorts import garbage from other communities into their own valley to effectively operate a regional landfill profit centre. Vision 2002 was to help us focus on what business we're in and prioritize our values... I think we still have a ways to go. We're in the alpine resort and outdoors business, not the garbage storage business. Our competitor Banff is a National Park and there have been recently many questions raised about its environmental sustainability. Federal bureaucrats in Ottawa have not distinguished themselves managing either the fisheries on either coast or the wilderness. Even so, Banff collects its waste every second day at 185 drop-off bins and then trucks it to a regional landfill near Calgary. We must develop a long-range plan addressing what is appropriate for our small valley with its limited flat bottomland and high environmental sensitivity. Stakeholders I have set out a number of stakeholders in this process who are, of course, not mutually exclusive. Mr. Barnett covered a couple of them in his memo but not all, and certainly not the most important ones. While Intrawest were called about this, I see no report that the Traffic Advisory Group were asked about the aesthetic impact of locating intercept lots next to the proposed dump expansion. The high flying clouds of seagulls will not impress our guests. I see no report that AWARE were consulted about a further major environmental impact on the Valley. And I especially see no report that the Community has been consulted in any way. Intrawest agreed that the dump expansion would be visible from the planned ski runs on the south side of Whistler Mountain but are not planning to oppose the expansion at this time. Their new runs are planned for 5 or 10 years hence or later anyway. I wonder if they know the landfill expansion, of which phase 2 is only an interim part, is based upon a 15 year plan to 2014. Given that Intrawest and Blackcomb/Whistler are in the approval process for re-zoning for 5 major projects including the huge Creekside Master Plan, they are in a difficult position. I cannot imagine their response to Mr. Barnett's questions would be unduly candid and certainly not controversial. The AWARE committee of environmentally concerned citizens is not covered even though I set them out specifically as an important stakeholder. I am informed that the Board and membership are seriously divided on the wisdom of further dump expansions. After this memo becomes public, I will be approaching them myself directly. Of the greatest concern to me, it appears any public review and consultation with the Whistler taxpayers and community in general will only come after this dump expansion is incorporated in the SLRD Solid Waste Management Plane. This is apparently specified under the Waste Management Act and needs the Minister's agreement. As Brian says, this will necessitate public review meetings in Whistler and Squamish (and I suppose Pemberton and points north in the Regional District, but maybe not, as they send their waste to us anyway). To be lumped together with other large populations communities in the SLRD does not ensure our views in Whistler are properly heard and taken into account especially with our unique interest. Whistler has limited voting representation in the SLRD and similar representation has adversely affected us in other areas such as health care and education, and may well have the same effect here. The large expansion of the Whistler Landfill will have a substantial environmental effect on our Valley and I am not satisfied the public and other stakeholders have been informed adequately about either the Plan or its inherent risks. Costs: Capital & Operating I have thought at length about the costs of dump expansion versus waste export as set out in the Stanley Report and Mr. Barnett's memos. The capital costs are laid out on a 15 year timetable for both options and then present-valued at a rate of 8%. This is fine on a business application to allocate scarce capital which must be borrowed. But, with our reserve fund savings approach, we don't borrow, and in fact the discount rate chosen should be the earned interest foregone, which as our reserves are always invested on a short term basis only, is more properly about 2.5%. This lower discount rate will bring the capital costs of the options closer together. Further, the expansion costs are delayed until the future (e.g. Phase 1 closure for Dump Expansion is carried out in 2009 compared to the Export Option where it is done in 2004... how come?) This has the effect of a "double whammy" with delayed expense and a high discount rate. This artificially enhances the Landfill Expansion Option and loads costs against the Export Option. I think both options call for a transfer station at some point. Both call for earlier phases to be closed. The entire capital cost structure needs to be reviewed on a realistic and fair basis which will in my view reveal options that are financially much closer together than is portrayed. How can we make a decision on the right choice if the final expansion design is not complete and geological and seismic studies have not been done? We risk bad estimates as well as serious cost overruns. Operating costs are also inflated for the Export Option, due to debt reduction which, as pointed out, is not necessary. (N.B. Anyway, an interest rate to borrow is set out as 8% while a long term mortgage financing was arranged by the Whistler Housing Authority without the guarantee of the Municipality for only 6.6% last week). Operating costs for the Expansion Option are understated as there is no provision for the dedicated trust fund to monitor and ultimately excavate and remove the buried waste. It will be painful when the Environmental Legacy Fund has to be clawed back to fix the mess. We have to look at the entire cost estimating approach. As with the capital cost structure, these options are closer than presented. Our current solid waste operating budget is about $2.3 million and profitable. I don't believe the Export Option user-pay percentage increase will be as onerous as presented. Other Options, Technology & Lateral Thinking Are there other options? Have we done any investigation on other approaches in the light of new technology? Can we do any lateral thinking on this? I have received suggestions on other ways to deal with our waste, including the use of a "clean" incinerator along with an aggressive recycling program. Have we investigated this? Is it economic?... because I know the technology is out there especially for a relatively small operation. The RMOW could even achieve its entrepreneurial profit centre aspirations drawing on the energy co-generation features of this approach. It would be consistent with our Vision 2002 environmental leadership priorities to investigate further. General & Conclusions This memo may seem critical in areas but it is meant to be constructive. I have tried to set it out carefully and on paper because there has been so much information presented and thereby so many issues raised. It is important to follow up this matter for me, but also for at least 4 environmental professionals and engineers who have separately made a point of telling me that further expansion of the landfill is a bad idea. I have received similar sentiments from many members of the community. It is a basic tenet of the environmental movement that a community should look after its own waste. That’s true, all things being equal, but all things are not equal, and we live in a high pristine alpine valley with very high precipitation. This is the reason for another equally powerful basic tenet of the environmental movement, that when you visit an environmentally sensitive area like our valley you "pack your food in, and you pack your waste out." This issue must be resolved and the export of our waste begun by 2004 as originally contemplated. That is ample time. Ted Milner


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