Guelph Waste Management Coalition Inc

Archive for the ‘Editorials’ Category

Guelph Speaks - Gerry Barker - July 28, 2012

The City of Guelph is asking the Ministry of Environment if it can accept plastic bags of wet garbage in its $33 million Organic Waste Processing Facility (OWPF).

The official title of the plant is the tony “Waste Resource Innovation Centre.” But what’s in a name?

Now, before we begin, let’s establish the definition of “plastic”.  This application is to be allowed to accept biodegradable plastic collection bags.

Since 2002, citizens have been sorting their waste in tri-coloured plastic bags. The kind that take 1,000 years to degrade.

This was a system created in 2001 by then Mayor Karen Farbridge and her environmental sidekick Janet Laird, chief of waste management for the city.

It seemed like a good idea at the time but the Mayor was defeated in the following election.

Mayor Farbridge was re-elected in 2006 and proceeded to turn Guelph into the organic waste disposal capital of Ontario along with a public relations campaign declaring Guelph as the best place to live, lowest crime rate in the country and, oops, the highest debt in Ontario.

But the plot sickens.

Let’s see. In 2008, Ms. Laird pulls together an idea to build a $33 million wet waste plant. It was to be built on the former wet waste plant site that was shut down because of smelling up the neighbourhood and being mismanaged. This time, like the phoenix, a new waste management plant would arise and meet the needs of the City of Guelph for more than 25 years.

Indeed, it was predicted that wet waste from other municipalities would create a profit centre for the city.

Who would know better than the staff directed by the Mayor and her fellow travelers on council?

Along came Guelph’s Titanic

So the deal was hatched and a company was engaged to build the plant, run it and negotiate contracts with other municipalities to feed the plant to meet its 60,000 tonnes per year capacity.

By comparison, that’s more than the 46,325 gross tonnage of the RMS Titanic. And we know what happened to that ship.

Can anyone imagine plunking  a vessel the size of the Titanic at the Dunlop Drive facility, plus another 14,000 tonnes.

Why build such an oversized plant at the Guelph taxpayer’s expense? Perhaps it was driven by some power egos determined to prove their inflated global theories of waste management.

For the record, Guelph generates about 10,000 tonnes of wet waste a year or 15 per cent of its Titanic-plant capacity.

Instead, in 2008, at the height of the worst recession since the Great Depression, the staff and majority of elected councillors, operating beyond the glare of public input, signed the deal with Maple Reinders Construction.

The plant started operating September 11, 2011. It has yet to produce contracted volumes of reusable compost.

In fact, the current test run to bring the plant up to its contracted production is not using wet waste from Guelph but importing 900 tonnes, over six weeks, from Hamilton.

Did we mention the stuff was coming in plastic bags, the kind that takes 1,000 years to degrade?

In the fall of 2011, there were complaints of odours from nearby residents. The contractor was instructed to remedy the complaints.

The plant was missing the parts to eliminate odours

Seems some important parts, including ammonia scrubbers, were left out of the construction. This caused leaks. escaping from the stack, to stink up the neighbourhood.

Momma Mia! The whole plan created by Ms. Laird and her team was to eliminate air-borne smells. The plant was not ready to meet neighbouring long-standing odour complaints.

The bottom line. The plant takes in tonnes of wet waste and by a process based on microbiology, magically turns the waste into reusable compost. There are complications. The temperature year round must be within a range to permit the microbes to do their appointed task. If it’s too hot they lay down on the job. If it’s too cold the same thing happens. Meanwhile, the trucks keep rolling in to dump their waste. Not only from Guelph, but now we learn from the Regional Municipality of Waterloo.

That means wet waste from Kitchener, Waterloo and other parts of the Regional Municipality, is heading for Guelph for processing. Is that a great investment or what?

Along came a $15 million spider.

Then, in the middle of the construction phase, the Ministry of Environment (MOE) informs the city it cannot use its current plastic bag collection system. The city council approves spending an additional $15 million to convert waste collection to an automated system employing special trucks and bins.

The bill to Guelph taxpayers has now reached $50 million. That’s $33 million for the plant, $15 million for the new bin collection system plus another $2 million for carrying charges and design changes.

Let’s recap at this point.

Council and staff have committed taxpayers to paying $50 million for a system that has yet to work. Unknowingly, taxpayers are financing a large scale regional Organic Waste Processing Facility (OWPF), the payback of which is uncertain.

Now the city is appealing to the MOE to allow waste to be delivered not in “plastic “ bags but in biodegradable “plastic” bags produced by an Ontario company.

Let’s get this straight. The city commits to spending $50 million, only to discover there exists the option of using bio-degradable plastic bags to collect the waste. The MOE issued a draft of new guidelines in 2009 that would allow the use of biodegradable plastic bags, provided the composting facility was designed to handle the material.

Despite this advice, Council agreed to spend $15 million on a new bin collection system. The decision was based on the MOE denial of using petroleum-based plastic bags in new organic waste facilities, as has been the case in the city for almost ten years.

But that was not quite true, was it?

Was there no discussion between the city, Maple Reinders and the province about the availability of bio-degradable plastic bags before the $15 million decision was made?

There was no business plan for the project

Now taxpayers are stuck with a $15 million bill, a $33 million plant that is very seriously overbuilt and this was all done without a business plan. That’s one of the reasons why the city refuses to make public the real operating costs of the plant, including the 21st century automated-collection system.

Already there is a citizen’s revolt over the bin deal with many questions yet to be answered by staff. Just remember, the days of heavy snow storms will cripple collection of wet waste and back-up receiving material at the plant.

This is a monumental mistake and Guelph citizens are stuck with a disposal system that will take years to pay off. Furthermore it is dependent on the bulk of inbound feedstock coming from other municipalities.

Some questions needing answers

Who made the decision to build a plant with a 60,000 tonne capacity a year, with the City of Guelph only supplying 10,000 tonnes of wet waste per year?

What is the plan to get rid of potential tonnes of composted material? Think Titanic, think big.

What are the real operating costs of the venture?

What profits, if any, can be expected?

What damages will be done to Guelph roads from garbage trucks, from other municipalities, bringing material to the plant?

Who decided to spend an additional $15 million to convert the waste collection system to automated trucks and bins?

When did the city learn that bio-degradable plastic bags containing wet waste would be acceptable at the plant for conversion to compost.

Why wasn’t the public informed of the contract agreements between Maple Reinders Contracting and its subsidiary companies that are part of the waste management plan?

This is a dereliction of responsibility on the part of city Council that has placed this heavy burden on the taxpayers.


Guelph Speaks - December 10, 2011
by Gerry Barker

The smells emanating from the new compost plant on Watson Road have oozed into the hallowed halls of city hall. The odour of voodoo financial management pervades as the city released a question and answer (Q and A) statement about the plant.

It is revealing in what the Q and A doesn’t answer as opposed to those provided.

The city acknowledges that the composting odour comes from the new plant. This is different from the first response in which it blamed the nearby Cargill plant for the problem.

The new plant stopped receiving green bag waste November 25 and it is now shipped to a St. Thomas landfill. This cost is stated “about $61 a tonne”. What is left out is the cost of shipping the clear bag garbage to St. Thomas, a practice that has been going on since cancellation of the contract to incinerate the waste in a New York State facility. That cost was $85 a tonne.

It is estimated by city officials that the contractor, Maple Reinders, will take at least six months to fix the odour problem and meet Ministry of Environment specifications. That could be sometime next May provided the repairs are completed.

The city says the cost of processing the green bag waste at the new plant is “about $79 a tonne”.

This is where things get murky.

Not included in that $79 operational estimate is the cost of borrowing the $32 million capital cost, depreciation of the facility, maintenance and insurance. Another fact is the cost of road repairs in the city caused by trucks delivering Waterloo waste to the Watson Road plant.

The interest rate must be included in the cost of operation of the facility. For example, let’s assume the city has borrowed the $32 million at an interest rate of 4%. That is $1,280,000 in interest per year alone not including repayment of principal.

The lifespan of the plant is estimated to be 20 years. If the $32 million debenture borrowed matures in that time frame, the cost of this misadventure is more than $57,600,000. That does not include the $15 million to be spent switching from plastic to green bins.

The city’s Q and A does not reveal the terms of the agreement with Maple Reinders. This contractor controls an outfit named Aim Environmental Group and its subsidiary Wellington Organix.

All three of these entities are getting a piece of the pie. Maple Reinders is designer and contractor to build the facility. Its subsidiary Wellington Organix operates the plant. And Aim Environmental negotiated the $117 price per tonne for the City of Waterloo to send its wet waste to Guelph.

That arrangement includes guaranteeing Waterloo access to two-thirds of the plant capacity.

So the taxpayers of Guelph have financed a wet waste composting plant to provide a service to another municipality that does not cover the real operating costs of the plant.

All liability lies with the taxpayers of Guelph.

If the city is paying $61 a tonne to send green bag waste to a St. Thomas landfill with no maintenance, depreciation or cost of capital affecting the price, one can only conclude the $79 operating cost of the new plant is vastly understated.

This is a project that has been riddled with lies of omission, secrecy, and management bungling. The only solution to clear the air is to hold a judicial enquiry to investigate what happened and expose the expenses of this failed project.

That giant sucking sound is your tax dollars being flushed down the toilet.

Gerry Barker
Guelph Speaks

Why must it be so hard? - by Jessica Lovell - Guelph Tribune - December, 01, 2011

What’s really going on at the new organic waste processing facility? That’s what I wanted to know. And I’m certain I wasn’t the only one looking for answers.

But the struggle to get those answers from the city has been a discouraging one.

I tried not to take it personally. After all, the city’s communications staff doesn’t work for me

But here’s how it played out:

After multiple emails and phone calls to various city folks, on Monday evening I finally heard from the city’s executive director of planning, engineering and environmental services, Janet Laird. It was just as I was going out the door for the night. Well past deadline, and well past the 3 p.m. time that I was told I would hear from her.

Normally, in that situation, I would unbutton my coat and pull out my notebook, but I have a sick kitty at home and I was anxious to tend to it.

I also thought it would be better to get the latest from Laird the following day, so we made plans to speak then – or so I thought.

After a number of emails and phone calls Tuesday, I finally arranged to speak with Laird at the end of the day. But when the time came, I didn’t hear from her. I was told she was still in a meeting, but would email answers to my questions by 9 a.m. Wednesday. When I arrived at the office at 9 a.m., there was no email from Laird to greet me. Instead, my phone was flashing with a message from the city’s communications department telling me that instead of the agreed-upon email, the city would be issuing a news release, which I could expect by 11 a.m.

As I write this, it’s 2:58 p.m. and counting, and still no news release.

As a reporter, I find this situation frustrating. But what bothers me more is the city’s seeming failure to provide answers to the concerns of its citizens.

It was complaints about odours from residents in the area of the organics plant that caused the city to stop accepting waste on Nov. 25. And it was through the Ward 2 blog, not the city’s communications team, that we first learned of the plant’s closure to new waste.

The complaints suggest members of the public would be looking for answers.

I expect they will be asking the same questions I’m asking.

It is understandable that city staff would be more focused on investigating and correcting issues at the waste facility than they would be on talking to the media, but I suggest that, in this case, they’ve made communications too low a priority.

The news release issued late Monday afternoon seemed outdated, leading with a statement that conflicted with comments provided by a Ministry of the

Environment official earlier in the day. And we’re still waiting on an updated release.

Luckily, Laird finally called. However, it should never be this much trouble.

Guelph Mercury - editorial Mon Nov 28 20110

The City of Guelph didn’t do enough soon enough to communicate to the community what was happening at its new organics waste treatment plant last week.

Without making a public announcement the municipality:

ceased the plant’s operations Friday;

received word that the Ministry of the Environment had determined or believed the plant was the source of multiple, recent odour complaints by area residents and that the municipality had been issued an immediate order to act on the problem;

made arrangements — effective Friday — to indefinitely ship the organics waste it collected on to an unknown, third-party, at an undisclosed cost;

initiated an investigation into whatever seemed to be the cause of the odours and had representatives of the firm that built the $32 million plant on site engaged in that task.

This is an incredibly high-priority item for this municipality, this council and this community.

This plant only opened weeks ago. At the time of the receipt of its first loads of wet waste, the municipality went to lengths to inform the community about this development as a positive story for the community — even going so far as to stage a press conference at the plant to deliver this message.

Shame on the municipality for doing so much less in terms of communication when these concerns arose and these actions were taken last week regarding the plant.

It was important to brief the community about progress related to the development of this facility during its construction and upon the plant becoming operational. The municipality took those steps. But how could it seemingly take a pass on promptly advising the community of these more recent developments when they surfaced?

The city has repeatedly undertaken publicly to operate this plant in a more transparent manner than it did with the previous one and to do a better job working with area residents on this development.

These promises were not well honoured in this case. In fact, whatever trust and goodwill the city had developed in the community related to the development of this new facility has suffered because of this episode.

Some members of council have helped communicate some details about this situation. But the official initial communications effort on this matter has been sorely lacking.

Guelph Mercury - Sept 22 2011

The Guelph Waste Management Coalition, and the local residents surrounding the new organics plant, were recently given a private tour by city staff, consultants, design build contractor and the facility operator last week.

What was interesting was that this time, compared to tours of the original facility, the guests knew as much if not more overall than those giving the tour.

Compost produces odours and although there are obvious changes in the process to meet the more stringent certificate of approval, there were many similarities to the previous plant. Everything looked as new and shiny as the old plant did before the process began and although it should remain odour-free at least for the first while, many in attendance were concerned about the ability to maintain the high-cost facility and stay in compliance.

The addition of the unsightly stack seems to be the big difference in design and that, despite the blemish on the landscape, should blow any odours above the nearby residences. Although this may be good for those close by, the people living farther to the east, such as those in the Arkell area, may not be too pleased with the design when the odours drift into their neighborhood.

People from the Ministry of the Environment attended and satisfied the guests that they will ensure the facility conforms to their very stringent certificate of approved operating requirements, and although the operators say they can operate within the guidelines, the residents are more confident that the ministry will ensure that they do.

This was a very expensive facility to build, mainly due to its location and with the additional costs associated with meeting the strict ministry requirements and subsidizing the cost of processing the waste from Waterloo, it will be interesting when the final numbers are revealed, if ever. As I went home from the tour, I was not nearly as concerned about the impact the operation would have on my nearby home and family, not because it is a so-called state of the art operation, but because I have full confidence in the neighbours, the members of the Guelph Waste Management Coalition and Ministry of the Environment — who are prepared, as a group, to react in full force to ensure the facility does not have an impact. I am not so sure that the city and the operator are as confident in their ability to comply.

Ken Spira, Guelph

Bagless garbage policy will bring big problems - Guelph Mercury August 27, 2010
City council does not consider all residential scenarios when making its decisions. I think its consideration of abandoning plastic garbage bags and going to a new wet plant will turn a beautiful city into one that is unsightly and mostly smelly on garbage days.

I live in a townhouse, with two cats and no outside water source. The idea of not bagging used cat litter or food waste and putting it in one large bin is disgusting. The only way I’d be able to clean out my bin is to drag it into the house and up to the second-floor washroom. Used kitty litter hardens over time. It is clay based, and on a hot summer day it would turn rock solid in the bin and make it impossible to remove.

I could see bins in a large city setting, but in a beautiful city like Guelph … it would spoil it. My townhouse community is prohibited from keeping garbage or other storage outside on their patios. What are we supposed to do if this comes to fruition? Stink up our homes? Pay the fines imposed by our townhouse management company?

What about apartment dwellers who only have a garbage chute? How would that work?

I have been using a green bin for over a year … to repel skunks and raccoons, primarily. I could probably accept bagless bins for recyclables and clear waste, if they changed the townhouse regulations to allow it. But in no way is it practical to go bagless for compostable waste.

Carrie Tanti, Guelph

Guelph Mercury Editorial Opinion - July 05/10

The Ministry of the Environment’s abruptly-ended prosecution of All-Treat Farms earlier this year continues to be a confounding matter.

The ministry broke off its prosecution of the Arthur compost plant in March. It suddenly sought and was granted a stay of proceedings on two charges filed in Guelph court related to persistent odour problems at the facility.

Little was stated at the time as to why the Crown halted its case, although it was one that had been watched with some interest in the area given a run of odour complaints from neighbours and the file’s similarities to a case like the one that led to a conviction against the City of Guelph for operating its own smelly wet-waste plant.

Nevertheless, the case just went away – unlike the unpleasant odours at the plant, which remain, according to ministry documents just released through an access to information request.

In response to media inquiries made as a result of the release of those papers, the ministry now asserts the case against All-Treat had no reasonable chance of resulting in a conviction since the firm is diligently engaged in action to mitigate its odour problems.

That’s a puzzling take. Does it mean the charges against the plant never should have been laid in the first place? Does it mean the operating licence issued by the province offers little guarantee that the plant won’t be an odour nuisance for neighbours?

The ministry hasn’t cleared the air on those matters – nor done the same for Arthur residents still peeved over the fumes coming off this composting operation.

The ministry has asserted this prosecution won’t be resumed.

There is anger in Arthur over how the ministry handled this investigation and the complaints that gave rise to it. It’s easy to side with the residents on this one. How much confidence could they have that the continuing odour complaints they’re making with the province will be effectively addressed?

Guelph Mercury - May 04, 2010

Scott Tracey

GUELPH — Recent history has taught Ken Spira to be leery, especially of officials promising they can operate any kind of composting facility without odours.

So the east-end resident and president of the Guelph Waste Management Coalition fears the worst after an announcement last week that Guelph Hydro will soon build a facility to convert abattoir waste into green energy.

“I don’t know how to feel about it just yet,” said Spira, who learned of the plan through an article in Saturday’s Mercury. “If it goes down the same road as the experimental composter obviously I’d be very concerned.”

Spira formed his coalition to battle the city’s former organics processing plant, which closed in 2006 amid odour complaints which ultimately saw the city pay a $40,000 fine.

Last Friday, officials unveiled a plan which will see Guelph Hydro build and operate an anaerobic digester near the city’s Waste Resource Innovation Centre. The plant will break down by-products from the nearby Cargill Meat Solutions facility, capturing methane and using it to power a generator which officials expect to create enough electricity to power 900 homes.

Hydro officials said the digestion process takes place inside an airtight container, trapping odours inside the facility.

Spira conceded the proposal sounds like a good way to reduce carbon emissions while generating electricity “but at the same time it doesn’t sound good. Obviously it’s the odour issue that concerns me.”

Mark Unsworth, vice-president of business development at Guelph Hydro, understands those concerns. But he said the utility has done its homework and is confident it can operate the facility odour-free.

While using anaerobic digestion to break down beef by-products is quite rare, Unsworth noted the technology “has been around for years and years and years” and is becoming increasingly common on farms.

Unsworth said waste material will be used as it is generated.

“This is a 24/7 operation, so we don’t expect to be stockpiling material until it gets into the processor,” he stressed.

For Spira, the idea of meat byproducts breaking down sounds too much like composting.

“I’m definitely concerned about odours, but I don’t know if I’m justifiably concerned about odours,” he said.

The Ontario government has committed $1 million to the project to cover engineering and obtain environmental approvals.

Unsworth said this phase will take eight to 12 months to complete, and the plant should be operational within about 12 months after that.

“It’s normally about a three-year process, and that’s about what we’re looking at,” Unsworth said, noting planning for the project began about a year ago.

From: Ken Spira []
Sent: Sunday, March 28, 2010 5:53 PM
To: ‘’
Subject: Organics Costs

It’s been roughly 4 months since City staff was first asked about the cost of the new organics facility. While the City does not want to give a  per tonne cost, Guelph Waste Management Coalition has enough facts to now calculate it ourselves. This facility will cost us roughly $320 per tonne. This will be reduced by $40 per tonne if and when the Region of Waterloo uses 100% of the excess capacity. Just in case you don’t know, there is no commitment by either AIM or Waterloo to use our facility.

So our cost will be somewhere between $280 and $320 per tonne. You would think that Guelph Taxpayers would be somewhat sensitive to this huge increase as well as offended that they were first told $114, then $236 and then $0.70 per week. It is still a mystery why the City of Guelph will not disclose how much this will cost.

This might have been ok if we were not able to secure a long term contract at a competitive rate. Freedom of Information requests were filed for both the Region of Halton and the Region of Waterloo to access their organic waste contracts. They both use AIM to compost their organics using Hamilton ’s facility. The City of Ottawa and the Region of York were also contacted to confirm that both out source their organics. Turns out there are long term contracts being signed at prices that are roughly 1/3 of ours. We have no idea of what information councilors asked for or what they were given but don’t think a single councillor was told what the all in cost per tonne was prior to approving this project.

Then we come to the Region of Waterloo deal. Our cost (before renting out 2/3 of the capacity) is $320. Take out the processing fee (because Waterloo pays this too) and our costs for the building work out to $240 per tonne. We are giving another municipality access to the majority of our facility for 8% of our cost.

I think the best way to sum up this deal is to say we could have had the exact same result by outsourcing this function for 1/3 of the cost and then used the savings to pay for most of the southend community centre or a big chunk of a new library.

Ken Spira

Guelph Mercury - Feb. 20/10 - Editorial Opinion

The simmering political disputes between the County of Wellington and the City of Guelph point to a breakdown of good will, compromise and respect. If operational cost-sharing between the city and county has become so sour and recriminatory, why has it taken three years to bubble to the surface?

A recent expensive arbitration ruling between the county and the city has added $2 million to the city’s 2010 budget. As well, the county is suing the city for $4 million for allegedly not paying its share of the seniors’ assisted-living facility in Fergus. The city has retaliated by withdrawing membership in the joint social services committee which administers the home.

The city is facing a breach of contract suit by the original contractor of the new city hall. The company was fired for allegedly failing to meet completion deadlines. Now, rumours persist that the agreement to convert the old city hall into a provincial courthouse could result in more headaches for the city. The city and the county agreed to split the estimated construction cost. If the county walks away from this obligation, will the city will have to fund the entire project?

The city has other potentially mounting costs. Upon further review, it has revised and increased the estimated operational costs at its proposed new $32-million wet waste plant. The per-ton treatment cost at this facility has about doubled since it was first publicly floated. The Guelph Waste Management Coalition has done yeoman’s work in exposing the real costs.

For the past three years, the city has paid much less than those estimated rates in shipping waste to another jurisdiction. The brain trust that put this new wet-plant deal together needs to be challenged. It’s starting to look like the city will be paying millions more for waste disposal, in this arrangement than necessary, based on current tonnage levels.

The proposed plant design is overbuilt and in the wrong location. During the 20-year lifetime of the facility, Guelph will barely use one-third of its capacity. The Region of Waterloo is supposed to ship its waste to Guelph’s new plant at a cost less than Guelph taxpayers are paying to keep the doors open.

What’s wrong with this picture? Is it good business to go into massive debt to supply services to another municipality, at a cost less then your operating costs?

Incidents of irresponsible spending and intergovernmental belligerence grow every day. As one wag put it, the city has a three column ledger labeled: Income, Outcome and Howcome.

The real tragedy is that most of the fiscal mess is going to fall in the laps of the next council. Residents will recall that it took the last council three years to clean up the fiscal mess left after the first Karen Farbridge term of office.

What is the alternative? Who among us with common sense and competence will challenge council’s members later this year? Councillors Christine Billings and Gloria Kovach have repeatedly attempted to bring reason and responsibility to the table. They are consistently outvoted. It’s time for serious people to step forward and lead this wonderful city.

Here are some priorities:

Cancel the proposed waste plant. Ship the stuff the cheapest way possible until funding is available to proceed with a more moderate and affordable plan.

Cap all wage and salaries until the books are balanced and reserves restored.

Complete the Hanlon business park and promote increased commercial and industrial development.

Ask the Ministry of Municipal Affairs to arbitrate relations between the county and city councils.

That’s for starters.

Gerry Barker’s column appears regularly in the Mercury. He may be reached at