Three proposals make the cut

MORRISBURG – As South Dundas rolled up its sleeves and dug in to determine the scope of their landfill situation, it has become very clear that it is symptomatic of a bad habit that has festered too long and it is quickly becoming a regional, if not global, issue.

Council has narrowed its options to three after a committee of the whole meeting Tues., April 23. Representatives from WSP, the firm hired to guide the municipality through its long-standing landfill issue was directed to bring back a comprehensive report on the potential expansion of either the Williamsburg or Matilda landfill and the addition of a transfer station with outsourced disposal. The three choices were selected from nine presented earlier in April.

If this sounds familiar it may be because in March 2018 Gabriel Lefebvre, then municipal landfill supervisor, presented a comprehensive report recommending the temporary closure of the Williamsburg site and the installation of a transfer station at the Matilda landfill at a cost of $300,000 for equipment and staff. The investment would push the closure dates for both landfills, buying valuable time to apply for an expansion.

Lefebvre resigned from his position that summer after nothing was done on the file, and the election brought about new leadership at the council table.

Now, with even the slightest steps forward, the municipality has begun the long and undoubtedly painful process of addressing the toxic waste of generations past, how it will handle it for generations to come, and how it will avoid leaving a similar legacy for its descendants.

Continuity costs
When addressing the landfill, it is safe to assume a waste free society isn’t about to emerge tomorrow so there must be, at the very least, a plan in place to deal with the standard garbage produced by the residents.

In comparing Lefebvre’s report, which estimated rates of an outside disposal contract at more than $95 per tonne, and WSP, which estimated rates at $65, the cost ranges from $308,425 to $563,406 annually. That cost does not include standard curbside pick-up, which was renewed this year for $596,000

South Dundas’ Williamsburg landfill site. Schoch Photo

Those figures are subject to market volatility and can often leave the municipality at the mercy of the contract provider.

If a proposed expansion is pursued, it will be a time consuming and costly endeavour with either site estimated to cost more than $2.2 million to construct and a transfer station comes in at $535,000.

However, Mayor Steven Byvelds admits these proposed solutions are only of the short-term variety or a small part of a larger long-term plan. It’s a case of dealing with the issue at hand and the associated costs before tackling the root of the problem.

“Until we get that information back, that’s the three options on the table. We know that in theory at current fill rates a landfill expansion at 100,000 cubic metres will be filled in 12 years, but if you get smarter with garbage and do something like that, maybe you get 15 years. Maybe 20 years, but I doubt it,” he said.

Money and time are the key players here and both are in short supply.

The municipality and councils of the day had no appetite to tackle the issue, and Lefebvre warned that they were fast approaching a point of no return as recently as March of last year.

“Four years of air space remains between both landfills. Three years in Williamsburg. Five years in Matilda,” he said at the time. “In our environmental compliance approval (ECA) they give us an approval of how much air space we have in total. We’re getting to that approved capacity. Once we hit that, game over.”

This is not unusual as municipalities and cities across North America and the globe wrestle with their aging landfills at the end of their lifecycles.

Costs of closure
Closing a landfill doesn’t mean you simply bar the gates and move on to the next site. Management of a dormant landfill site can continue for years and in most cases indefinitely. This burden is no different in South Dundas.

Closure costs include capping the site with soils, monitoring of the pack as it begins to settle, leachate and methane gas management.

The leachate issue is of the utmost concern. The Williamsburg site, which was originally an old quarry, has no liner or any kind of remediating systems in place to handle the toxic sludge that has pooled at the bottom of the landfill.

All that can be done is to monitor the situation with a series of wells and hope that the leachate plume doesn’t move further into the drinking water.

The first 10 years of monitoring are intensive, with 25 years being the standard. However, there is no known end date to that responsibility.

“It depends where the leachate plume is going. If it stops migrating the monitoring will be less and less. I’m not sure at what point it actually becomes zero,” said Byvelds. “You have to have a well beyond the plume so you know that you’re not there yet. If the plume hits the good well, you end up drilling another well beyond it until you get good water again. Then you’ll watch that well and hopefully it doesn’t go bad. There’s no fix because that water is deep underground. It’s usually above the bedrock but it can go into the bedrock.”

One of the key elements in managing the current landfill issues and charting a more responsible path forward will be diversion tactics such as composting, recycling programs, reducing and better handling of waste, proper sorting techniques and public education. The largest portion of waste in landfills is 51 per cent municipal solid waste, construction and demolition, industrial, commercial and institutional. Organic waste, recyclables, furniture and shingles make up approximately 30 per cent and mattresses are 12 per cent.

Approximately 33.5 per cent of waste can be diverted depending on public participation. The South Dundas diversion rate is currently estimated at 20 per cent, according to CAO Shannon Geraghty.

These tactics would buy valuable time and space, create surplus products valuable to the public and municipality, provide revenue to offset operating costs, promote a cyclical economy and even provide jobs.

Changing habits can be a hard rock to move, but Byvelds acknowledges this type of planning must be part of the solution.

“We need to get a little smarter in what we do. We’re getting to the point where our landfills are getting full and it will force us into thinking that way,” he said. “It’s not just going to be us as council asking people to change their ways. I think it’s we as a society that needs to start thinking a little smarter.”

Councillor Archie Mellan has been a vocal supporter of educating the public.

“We’re going to have to educate people, we’re going to have to drive it into their heads with a hammer that we can’t continue to run our landfills the way we are,” he said.

New way forward
As South Dundas continues to grapple with their issue, the way forward may need to be a regional collaborative effort, rather than left to local municipalities.

North Dundas has similar issues and Cornwall’s landfill is set to close in 2030.

Byvelds indicated there is some mild interest and a few dollars available to explore working with the counties to address the waste issue.

“Some municipalities are in the same boat we are and others are not,” he said.

“If we’re going to do some big thinking on this whole waste issue in SD&G then Cornwall has to be brought in too.”

It is still very early in the process and a potential solution could be years away.

In the meantime, mandatory recycling, composting and other diversion tactics are being considered, including putting a price on garbage per bag.

Financing dealing with the past waste infrastructure and implementing a new system has yet to be discussed as council waits for the final facts and figures, although taxation and borrowing money seem to be the most likely route.