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Provincial waste plan could prove costly for region

Council receives preliminary business case for organics management, including option for anaerobic digestion

euro_anaerobic_digestion

Anaerobic digestion is one of the methods proposed for Durham Region council to deal with organic waste in the coming years. (Photo courtesy of Wikimedia Commons).

By Dave Flaherty/The Oshawa Express

Plans from the provincial government to divert all organic waste from landfills could prove quite costly for the Region of Durham.

The Liberal government’s anticipated Provincial Organics Action Plan (OAP), which is being developed within the Waste Free Ontario Act of 2016, calls for a potential ban of organics waste in landfills by 2022.

Michael Cant, principal of solid waste for GHD Ltd., presenting a preliminary business case for an Organics Management Strategy to regional council was frank in stating the region’s “existing organics management facility is at capacity” and would not be prepared to deal with the consequences of such a ban.

“It does now allow for additional processing, does not allow any increase in the diversion rate and does not extend capacity at the Durham-York Energy Centre (DYEC),” Cant said.

There are several actions the region could potentially take to deal with an organics ban, but Cant warned “all options will involve a significant capital expense and increased operating costs.”

According to Jim Clapp, the region’s commissioner of finance, depending on the chosen direction, projected capital costs could range from $170 million to $210 million.

Despite regional council receiving its first look at the business case for a potential organics management plan, a final decision likely remains far down the road with Cant noting he hopes the final business case will be ready for council by the end of the year.

During the presentation at council’s final committee of the whole meeting prior to summer recess, Clapp cautioned councillors that information they were receiving, specifically potential costs, was to give them a general sense of “the magnitude of what may be in store.”

“This [is] almost really preliminary analysis, we are still a very long way away from a business case,” Clapp said.

Ajax councillor Shawn Collier said based on the information presented so far, “there are more questions that are brought up than answers.”

For that reason, regional council passed a staff recommendation to prepare a request for information (RFI) to identify possible proposals and approve a contract, not to exceed $300,000, with GHD Ltd. to assist with the RFI process, as well as exploring various service delivery options and updating the business case with necessary information.

Funds for the contract were part of $800,000 approved in the 2017 waste management budget.

Clapp said the RFI should provide council and staff with the “necessary information” to move forward.

Clapp said costs related to the project could nearly double the region’s outstanding debt and lead to $22 million to $27 million in annual debt charges.

“This is a major, major player in terms of our debt,” Clapp said.

Operating costs could also potentially rise $31 million to $33 million from the status quo.

In quoting these figures, Clapp again explained that these numbers are “preliminary” and could change depending on information received through the RFI.

The preliminary business case presents two options for the region in terms of future organics management.

The first, in-vessel management, would build on the region’s current process by adding mixed waste pre-sorting, which would increase the current system’s capacity for additional organic wastes.

However, it is noted that in-vessel management would not likely increase the region’s diversion rate to the provincial goal of 70 per cent and wouldn’t likely produce compost that meets provincial standards necessarily for agricultural use.

In addition, this process would not produce a bio-fuel that could offset the use of fossil fuels and be of interest to potential energy or business partners.

The second process, anaerobic digestion (AD), is described in the business case as providing “a robust system which will be able to sort and process cross-contaminated materials from the single and multi-family residence waste streams.”

It is also stated that AD would easily meet an organic waste ban, create opportunities to participate in the Cap and Trade program and has the potential to increase the region’s diversion rate above 70 per cent, which in turn could extend capacity at the DYEC.

The AD service, if chosen by council, could be provided through a number of methods, including a fully or partially owned-regional facility or a privately owned-facility where the region would pay a tipping fee for material sorting and processing.

As previously reported in The Oshawa Express, representatives of two companies, Veridian and Enbridge, approached council in May with potential proposals for an AD and the associated pre-sort facility.

However, commissioner of works Susan Siopis said at the time there has been no talks between Durham Region and either company.

At the latest regional council meeting, Blair McArthur, president of Miller Waste Systems Inc., asked council to keep his company in mind as well.

McArthur said Miller has “long advocated AD in Durham’s long-term organic diversion planning.”

Calling his group “leaders in the industry”, McArthur asked councillors “to consider our experience” in any future decisions.

Oshawa councillor John Aker said no matter how much the solution costs, he does not want the region directly involved in the construction of such a facility.

“When we do a construction projects on a road, it’s not our people. It’s not reasonable from a financial point of view or expertise point of view,” he said.

Clarington councillor Joe Neal said the province is essentially forcing the region’s hand “to spend the money”.

“As long as all the numbers are there at the end of the day, we can make an informed decision,” Neal said.