Time’s up

MORRISBURG – Just like that, the clock struck 12.

Without so much as a warning, the Williamsburg landfill unceremoniously ceased operations and began diverting all waste to the Matilda site as of Mon., June 3. The landfill is slated to be completely closed to the public by Sun., June 30.

With Steven Byvelds absent due to family reasons, Deputy-Mayor Kirsten Gardner chaired the regular council meeting Tues., June 4 and summed up the report succinctly.

“Time’s up. Six months in, time’s up,” she said.The public is very well aware. I don’t think this is a complete surprise. The date might be a surprise, but it’s not a surprise that there are issues with the landfill. It just came sooner rather than later.”

The order to shut down came from the Ministry of Environment, Conservation and Parks and, as CAO Shannon Geraghty explained, it is a no-nonsense directive that the municipality should take seriously.

On order by the responsible provincial ministry, the Williamsburg landfill has been closed indefinitely.

“No later than June 30 Williamsburg will be closed to all residents. They are adamant this does happen. If it does not happen they will issue an order against us. At this time it’s probably in our best interest to work with them,” said Geraghty. “There are other infractions throughout these letters that we are working with them on. They are willing to work with us.”

The landfill discussion was a late addition to the meeting agenda after Geraghty and director of transportation Jeff Hyndman met with MECP officials Fri., May 31 and several infractions prompted immediate action. What those infractions were was not revealed to the public at the meeting.

Numerous attempts to reach Geraghty and MECP officials for clarification were unsuccessful as of press time.

With no time left and the Matilda site now accepting all garbage, the landfill discussion just picked up considerable momentum and more than a few complications.

“I think we need to be aggressive with all aspects of it,” said Gardner in a sentiment shared by the rest of council throughout the discussion.

Councillor Don Lewis was also concerned a closure could jeopardize a potential expansion at the Williamsburg location.

“Once you close a landfill site, is it not closed for life?,” he asked. “[If] it’s closed officially and then we buy the 40 or 50 acres next door and then what do we have? We’ve got 40 or 50 acres we’re not going to be able to do anything with.”

Geraghty explained that a site could be “mothballed” and then re-opened at a later date, but that several complex and potentially costly issues, including permits, environmental assessments, closure reports and cover for the pile, must first be dealt with.

“We need to start putting some cover on Williamsburg, which will be expensive. But that’s the whole reason for having that landfill reserve,” he said

WSP, the waste management firm that has been charged with guiding the municipality out of a quagmire, had previously stated the Williamsburg site would be closed by the end of 2019. In the same report, several options were outlined with three, a transfer station and/or expansion in Matilda, or an expansion in Williamsburg, being earmarked by council. Geraghty believed the options are still viable.

“That changes a little bit just based on what’s happening here at this point in time. We’re going to sit down with them and look at all these options,” he said.

Early discussions with the MECP also revealed a few surprises regarding potential expansion design requirements.

“We might not require a liner that was indicated that was really expensive or the leachate trap that was required. They look at rural municipalities a little bit differently than large urban ones,” he said.

Although Williamsburg was shuttered immediately, the Matilda site still had its fair share of issues

Councillor Archie Mellan read directly from the letter from the MECP, which raised a question about a missing closure report for the Matilda site, which is required by the MECP, and was supposedly filed in 2010.

“‘Records indicate that the application was then withdrawn. The closure plan may not, therefore, have been approved and accepted.’ Is Matilda up in the air as far as a closure plan?,” he asked.

Geraghty replied: “The ministry couldn’t find much either.”

According to Hyndman, the pile in Matilda had also breached its footprint and work was underway to correct the issue.

“We have filled beyond our approved limit. That would be in the south end. There’s a plume that goes too far. I’ve brought a contractor in and we’re in the process now of moving that to get us within our footprint of our landfill,” he said.

Hyndman, who has been overseeing the landfill folder since the departure of Gabriel Lefebvre in 2018, was toeing the line set by the MECP official and used GPS coordinates to reaffirm the boundaries.

“With the ministry it’s all about following orders and working within your footprint. As soon as we told her we GPS’d them, she had a great big grin on her face,” he said.

Geraghty did add that additional space may be on-site in Matilda within the approved limits, which will buy the municipality critical time.

He then outlined the reality of the situation and next steps for council and staff.

“They’re aware that there are certain requirements we haven’t fulfilled. WSP is meeting all these timelines to get everything ready,” Geraghty said. “They know our funds are limited. They will work with us to make sure we meet all the requirements.”

An updated report by WSP will be brought to the next council meeting Tues., June 18.