Friday, March 06, 2009

Ministry strengthens odour laws

Coalition group welcomes news, remains committed to scrutinizing details of new compost plant

The Ministry of the Environment is working on stricter odour requirements for waste management facilities that will be in place by the time the city moves forward with its new compost plant.

"Odour is clearly a documented issue at compost plants," said Ian Parrott, manager of the ministry's environmental assessment and approvals branch in Toronto. "We're beefing up our requirements."

These changes will demand more from the property owner, including regularly documenting odour concerns, looking for potentials for odour and where odour can be eliminated, he said.

Janet Laird, the city's director of environmental services, said this is a positive step because it will allow any potential issues to be flagged earlier.

"We're looking forward to that," she said.

Guelph's first organics facility was shut down in 2006 because of odours and the faster-than-anticipated corrosion of the building. The Ministry of the Environment charged Guelph with odour offences, to which the city pleaded guilty and paid a $40,000 fine.

The Waste Resource Innovation Centre on Dunlop Drive houses Guelph's waste facilities, including household hazardous waste drop off and a waste transfer station.

The same site was the location of the organics facility that was shut down. The city has decided it will be the location for the new compost facility, which is slated to be fully functioning by 2011.

The ministry changes are welcome news for members of Guelph Waste Management Coalition Inc., who fear history will repeat itself when the new facility opens.

A group of concerned and affected residents formed the coalition in the wake of the problems at the first compost facility on the site.

Ken Spira, who lives on Glenholm Drive near the facility, is president of the coalition and says the group remains strong and focused on scrutinizing every detail of a new compost plant.

"I hope the tighter compost (requirements) make it uneconomical and totally unreasonable to build the compost facility at that site," he said.

While he is still concerned the odours will return and a compost plant will threaten the aquifer under the facility, Spira said he is very pleased compost plants won't qualify for the more flexible certificate.

The city has decided on the location, but has not yet made an application to the ministry for construction. It is still weighing the two bids put forward by companies to build the second compost facility. Out of 14 preliminary bids, two remain -- Maple Reinders, which built composters in Peel Region and Nova Scotia, and Integrated Municipal Services, which has a composter in Thorold, Ont.

Laird said she hopes to take a report to council about the progress of the organics facility and present the recommended bidder next month.

Parrott said the Ministry of the Environment is also launching a new waste comprehensive certificate of approval that will save owners time and money by allowing for more flexibility. Within reason, a facility could make changes without submitting applications or hiring consultants -- though environmental standards will not be lowered.

Generally speaking, only low-risk facilities meet the criteria including transfer stations and non-hazardous waste centres, Parrott said. Compost facilities do not qualify for the certificate.

At Guelph's waste facility, there are several separate operations and it is possible to apply for separate certificates.

Laird said she expects having the new waste comprehensive certificate of approval would benefit Guelph.

"It's not applicable for hazardous waste or organics, but I expect to apply for a waste comprehensive certificate of approval for the balance of the operations at the Waste Resource Innovation Centre," she said.

But Guelph's chances at obtaining that certificate could be jeopardized by its past odour charges as historical compliance with regulations is a requirement.

Parrott said the ministry will look at the compliance record for the city's entire waste management operation.

Guelph staff will participate in orientation sessions on the new certificate in March.

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