Not in our backyard

A petition with 818 signatures was signed in protest of a coming landfill's location

A long-time planned landfill is now being designed in detail despite protests from residents across the region.

Lakelse Lake area residents, property owners, and general public signed two petitions handed to the Regional District of Kitimat Stikine — one with 220 signatures November 16, 2011, and another with 596 signatures Dec.15.

The first was handed in prior to the district’s Nov. 25th meeting, asking that the district stall plans to move ahead with a detailed design for the planned Forceman Ridge landfill site until thoroughly consulting the public. But it didn’t stop the district board from voting to move ahead with the design.

“We believe the Kitimat-Stikine Regional District and the City of Terrace should reconsider the proposed Forceman Ridge Landfill,” read the petition, which continued that the undersigned are against the landfill’s proposed location, 30 km south from Terrace within the Lakelse watershed.

Some residents wrote letters, concerned about water contamination from water flowing through the garbage and into the ground, then travelling towards Clearwater Lake which feeds into Lakelse Lake  — not to mention the aroma of trash that might waft over residences with an easterly wind.

Environmental concern about the project was also brought to the district by the Lakelse Watershed Society, which wrote Nov. 2 that should the site harm the watershed’s ecology, the society would not be in support.

In the letter, society vice president Ernie Kuehne wrote that publicly sharing the project’s planning details might mitigate community concern.

“Updates and communication from the regional district to the community would be most helpful,” he said.

Concerns stem from the newest understanding of the site’s groundwater route — which prior to 2006 was thought to flow south instead toward the Kitimat River, said Leslie Rowlands, head of the first petition.

The Forceman Ridge Landfill has been 16 years in the making, and while planning and construction is to be spearheaded by the regional district, the City of Terrace’s needs, various B.C. government ministry needs, notably the environment ministry’s, and other interest groups are also weighing in on the project.

The decision to move ahead with plans came on the heels of a report from former regional district director Brad Pollard, who gave his rationale for the necessity of starting the design phase.

The first — further delays in addressing the Thornhill and Terrace landfills are not an option, he said in the report.

Both are over capacity, and remain open only via the flexibility of B.C.’s environment ministry. (Terrace’s landfill operates on a sort of extention permit, based on a new landfill coming.)

Holding back a design would delay the Forceman Ridge process by at least a year, said his report.

Next, the regional district had assigned a purpose for using  its share of gas tax revenue, being that it should go to landfill development.

Also, time had run out for the previous district board, with the decision to move ahead coming on the last meeting day of its three-year term. As that board had extensive knowledge of issues, delaying the decision would have created “a redundant cost to the taxpayers without net benefit,” said Pollard’s report.

Passing the motion at the last meeting Nov. 25, 2011 of the old board would enable the new board to focus on mitigating perceived impacts, the report continued.

Pollard noted that a detailed design would not set the final location of the landfill in stone, but allow questions such as down-stream environmental impacts to be answered more confidently, opening avenues to discuss alternative treatments if necessary.

Lastly, Pollard cited the need to reaffirm the commitment from the City of Terrace, which he said would allow more waste diversion projects to be started, ultimately keeping more trash away from the site.

In conclusion, Pollard recommended and the board agreed to prepare a detailed design plan for the Forceman Ridge Landfill.

The decision is backed by a plan to  develop a community communication strategy involving newsletters, newspapers, direct contact with affected citizen groups, web resources and open houses. Communications will involve the regional district’s solid waste plans — including long-term landfilling plans, transfer stations, curbside collection, waste diversion initiatives and cost recovery. Background material, including reports on Forceman Ridge would also be released.

But Rowlands says consultation needed to happen before the design was set in motion.

Rowlands alleges the regional district didn’t inform First Nations or appropriate government ministries of the newest-found groundwater route either.

“I’m very disappointed to see the board prepare next for the design phase because we still have many unanswered questions like lechate flow, environmental consultants, if environmental analysts properly did their job,” she said, continuing that while reviewing former reports she “poked all sorts of holes.”

She added much knowledge of watersheds has evolved since the site was first planned, adding weight to the call for its relocation.

However, at the last meeting of the old Terrace city council, Pollard (who sat on that council), noted that until detailed design plans were made, concrete answers to environmental concerns won’t be available.

“The problem is, we can’t say there is or isn’t an effect on the lake,” he said.

Adding to this, regional district manager of works and services Roger Tooms said the new design would flesh out more detail in regards to overall volume, the actual treatment facility, the liner component, mitigation and monitoring of the facility, and wildlife mitigation.

“Detailed design facilitates further studies,” he said, noting much of the project has been purely conceptual.

In response to location alternatives, Tooms said Forceman Ridge isn’t likely to change.

“Where else would it go?” he said, adding the specific footprint is yet to be determined.

“We’ve studied this landfill location for a long time with a lot of professionals,” said Tooms. “We do not want to impact on our own backyard. Can we co-exist here? We think we can.”

Since the design plan moved forward, another petition was handed to the regional district on December 15, bringing the total count of those calling for stalled design plans and more information to 818 people.

“All together, they constitute a regional voice of citizens,” said Rowlands.

Ian Maxwell, one of those who organized the second petition, said he thinks the requests for the board to wait are valid despite it voting to  move ahead.

“I think it’s absolutely still valid that the first step is to tell the public what’s been going on here,” he said.

Tooms said communicating is a top board priority as was decided Nov. 25.

A brief history

B.C.  downloaded its solid waste management responsibilities to regional districts under the Mike Harcourt provincial NDP government.

According to Les Watmough, a former regional district director with more than 20 years experience, a decision was made then that a regional landfill would be cost efficient, and vital because  it was widely known that time was running out for the Terrace and Thornhills dumps.

The regional district solid waste management plan was born in 1995. Initially, plans involved a dump to service Terrace, Thornhill and Kitimat. Kitimat would later opt out of these plans.

Watmough said that many sites were looked at, with the current location being not the optimal choice, but the only choice due to varying government land interests.

In 1998, an open house was held in Thornhill and in 2002 the district applied to the Ministry of Environment for land tenure and an operational certificate and also distributed a brochure, which stated groundwater flow moved south.

First Nations consultation would then slow plans for years, with a memorandum of understanding being reached with the Kitselas First Nation in 2007.

Land tenure was granted in Oct. 2011 and the decision to proceed was made.

 

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