MORRISBURG – Dumpster diving is a messy affair, but the general idea is that if you can tolerate all the nastiness, you will inevitably come up with a gem or two if you search hard enough.

The five members of South Dundas council plunged in with both feet as waste management consultants from WSP laid the reality of the situation before them at a special committee of the whole meeting Thurs., Sept. 5.

The report presented by Russell Chown and Jennifer Brown-Hawn of WSP comes on the heels of the unexpected closure of the Williamsburg landfill site June 30 and provided greater detail of the current situation, costs and next steps for the municipality.

The current state
It’s a mess and that was made publicly obvious with the unexpected closure of the Williamsburg landfill site. It will remain closed, most likely permanently, as the site is over capacity and has significant surface water contamination of iron, boron and chloride on site.

The Provincially Significant Wetland (PSW) that borders the landfill magnifies the problem. Operated since 1961, it lacks the modern engineering to prevent the leaching of toxic contaminants into surface water or aquifers, so an expansion, although there is room, seems highly unlikely.

The Ministry of Environment, Conservation and Parks (MECP) has given the municipality until September 2020 to cover the site with two feet of clay, estimated to cost $1.5-million, and an additional $1-million in soil cover upon ministry approval.

Since the contamination plume has moved, new wells must be dug to establish a new contamination zone (CAZ) and a final closure plan must be submitted by Sun., Sept. 15.

With only $600,000 put away in reserves, CAO Shannon Geraghty was forthcoming in his assessment.

“We’re far below where we need to be right now,” he said.

Chown also admitted he was “quite surprised at how high it was” to cover the site, but that it would hopefully mitigate the contamination issues.

“The amount of water going through the waste mound will be reduced and things might start to look a little bit better there on the surface water,” he said.

A minimum 25-year monitoring plan of the site will also have to be accounted for in any budgeting by the municipality.

With that, attention turned to Matilda, a site that currently has two years left until it is full.

The site has better soil composition, electricity, no PSW on site and has the potential for two expansions of 100,000 cubic metres on the current footprint “unless the political climate changes,” according to Chown.

Not only that, the MECP indicated a costly liner system to deal with the toxic leachate may not be required.

“They are open to the idea of expanding Matilda without installing a liner and leachate collection system. Now when I say open to that it’s up to us to demonstrate that site, with the utmost engineering control, will not cause an adverse affect at the down gradient boundary,” said Chown.

Significant earth work will need to be done as Matilda also has surface water contamination and the Zandbergen Drain, which flows north, on site.

The contamination plume has also moved northwest and new wells and a new contamination zone will also need to be established.

Councillor Archie Mellan pointed out that there is no existing agreement in place with landowners where the current wells are located, which presented a new potential problem.

What now?
Councillor Lloyd Wells summed it up best: “We’ve gotta come up with a lot of money here.”

Such is the situation left to the 11th hour and stark options, some with price tags to match, were tabled, as well as some necessary changes in attitude.

Of most pressing concern was the need to do the preliminary work to apply for an expansion, which was estimated to cost between $70,000 and $100,000 by WSP.

Director of public works, Jeff Hyndman made a strong case for the purchase of a refurbished packer, which would compact the waste and save space in the landfill, at a cost of $210,000. Council was in favour of both items being explored further, but Byvelds pointed out that just running the waste collection services at status quo levels costs more than $900,000 each year. Those days are gone.

“Keep this in mind when you are building your new landfill. Someday down the road it has to be filled in. As I said before, we’re now going to expect the residents of South Dundas from this day forward to cover the Williamsburg landfill, which has been existence for how many years? We only have a little dribble set aside to do it. You’ve gotta look at future costs in this kind of situation,” he said.

An idea put forward by Wells would see the municipality go toward a user-pay system rather than just increasing taxes. Though he insisted that acceptance of the idea hinges on residents knowing what they are paying for.

“I’m just looking at it as a business. At the end, it’s got to be paid for. I think if everyone has seen it. Exactly what they’re paying for… they’ll accept it more than taxes go up six per cent,” he said.

Council also identified that proper sorting of waste at the landfill, proper disposal of high volume items such as mattresses, limiting or increasing fees on construction waste, a household waste compost plan and an aggressive waste diversion program as part of the solution.

Deputy-Mayor Kirsten Gardner was the most vocal about “counteracting the throwaway society” with education and better programs to save space in the landfill.

“We have to be really aggressive with diversion. It’s not included in this, but there does have to be some costing for household waste diversion,” she said.

With council favouring an expansion and continuing to offer waste pick up as a municipal service rather than contracting it to an outside source, Byvelds insisted a new attitude was necessary.

“If we go down the road of running our own landfill, we have to get much more professional about it,” he said. “We would have to run it like it’s a business.”

Many of the options discussed and the change in approach were first suggested in a report tabled by former landfill supervisor Gabriel Lefebvre, which was publicly acknowledged by Byvelds.

“We need to dig out a former employee’s report because if that had been followed, we would not be sitting here today. Right, councillor Mellan? There were a lot of good ideas in there,” he said.

Mellan agreed and held up a copy of the report he had been perusing.

Gardner went a step further.

“If we could maybe hire the author of that excellent plan back… just saying. You’re going to have to have somebody who understands all of that to make it happen,” she said.

The cost
With an eye on the upcoming budget, council is preparing for the worst. The covering of the Williamsburg landfill, the new Matilda expansion report and current operations will see the budget go from approximately $900,000 to $2.5-million. That doesn’t include clay cover that is required at the Matilda site or a new contract for curbside pick-up, which expires with Miller Waste Systems next year.

Byvelds was adamant the municipality would not borrow money to update their waste services and instead offered that a user pay model must be considered. North Grenville currently charges $1.75 per bag and they are on a full transfer station system with the other 50 per cent of the costs paid for through taxation.

While going to user-pay system may be jumping the gun with a regional landfill plan still possible, the municipality can’t afford to wait.

“Others have done it. We wouldn’t be the first. We would be the first in SD&G. The counties are still looking at waste, but if that drags on too long we’ll have nothing, then we’re behind the eight-ball,” said Byvelds.

Staff was directed to provide an extensive report in October that outlined costs and estimates for many of the options discussed, including the cost of commercial waste, fees, diversion and educational programs, composting and a used packer.

One thing is certain, the cost of waste is going up.

“We haven’t socked enough away to deal with the closure costs. I’m not going to blame anybody for that because every council in the past never thought of that number until recently. If it means we’re not doing a road, we’re not doing a road,” said Byvelds. “We’ve gotta hope that if we do this right, people will be fairly accepting of it. Not everybody’s going to, but we can try our best.”