Northern Alberta landfill opens after decade of controversy; “We’ve lost all the water”

Northern Alberta landfill opens after decade of controversy by Bill Mah, November 1, 2015, Edmonton Journal

After nearly a decade of controversy, Waste Management of Canada opened its Thorhild landfill facility on Thursday.

Ten days earlier the site, located about 85 kilometres northeast of Edmonton, had begun accepting its first truckloads of garbage.

“We received our final operating approval from Alberta Environment early in October and we opened our doors officially on Oct. 19 just to accept a few test loads,” company spokeswoman Rina Blacklaws said. “We are fully ready and open for business.”

Waste Management calls it an important facility for northern and central Alberta because it provides a means for safe, regulated disposal of waste. The company says its west Edmonton landfill is rapidly nearing the end of its “airspace capacity” and Thorhild offers a long-term solution.

“It means a lot for our customers. We have a lot of customers that were waiting for us to open and were looking for an alternative to the West Edmonton Landfill. We’re permitted to accept household garbage, commercial, industrial and special waste that is not hazardous. That special waste may include soils contaminated with grease or oil.”

But the opposition and suspicion that has dogged the project since it was announced in 2006 remains.

“They’re not good neighbours at all,” said Peggy Hilts, a retiree who lives next door to the plant with her husband Ted.

The couple said the landfill has cut off their surface water supply, the spring run-off that normally flows south through the landfill site into wetlands on their property, then fills their dugouts and ponds enough to last year-round.

Restoring and maintaining their water supply was one of the conditions of a ministerial order issued by the former Tory provincial government, Hilts said. She said Alberta Environment gave approval to the company despite not meeting those conditions.

“We’re only supposed to lose a minimal amount of water with the impact of this project. Well, that’s the opposite. We’ve lost all the water,” Hilts said.

She was also critical of Alberta Environment.

“They’re giving more preference to a foreign company than the residents who have lived in this community and this province as long as we have.”

Waste Management received permits from Alberta Environment and Thorhild County in 2008.

In 2013, concerned residents convinced the Alberta Environment Appeal Board to hold a rare hearing on an approval granted by Alberta Environment.

The appeal board upheld the approval, but called the site marginal for a landfill and required eight additional measures to protect the water, environment and human health. That included a double clay liner on the landfill. Then-environment minister Diana McQueen signed off on the appeal board’s additional requirements.

Thorhild County Reeve Dan Buryn said he’s not sure that the ministerial order has been upheld.

“There was the surface water issue and the ministerial order reflected on that and I don’t even know if that’s been rectified and I don’t even know if Alberta Environment is checking up and following their own ministerial order,” Buryn said.

Blacklaws said the company has complied.

“We have met all of the requirements laid out in our development permit with the county, the Environmental Protection and Enhancement Act, the permit from Alberta Environment and we did get a supplemental ministerial. … We have met all of those conditions and have submitted all of our final documents throughout the year and they have reviewed all of them and issued us that final operating approval,” Blacklaws said.

That claim was backed up by Alberta Environment spokesman Jamie Hanlon.

“I can confirm that Waste Management of Canada Corp. has met all conditions outlined in a ministerial order issued following 2013 Environmental Appeals Board recommendations,” Hanlon said in an email. “On Oct. 8, the department issued the company a letter of authorization allowing the facility to accept waste.” [Emphasis added]


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