Drastic action needed on waste management on islands: regional district

  • Mar. 21, 2008 11:00 a.m.

By Heather Ramsay-Trashing the islands recycling system may be one way to stop the thousands of dollars leaking out of the waste management system. “The financial situation we are in needs drastic action,” said RD administrator John Holland, who reported to Queen Charlotte Council that waste management was $260,000 in the hole at the end of 2007. Rather than making money, recycling loses an average of $50,000, he said at the March 17 council meeting, but throwing recycling in the can is just one possible solution. He also expects to raise the garbage tax requisition 25 percent and boost user fees from $17 to $22 per month across the board. But even these proposed increases would not rid the Islands of the deficit until 2010. Mr. Holland is still in the process of creating a final 2008 budget and a five-year projection and was seeking QC council’s advice on the feasibility of such increases. “I just want to stop the bleeding and get at the deficit,” he said. The user fee increase would be the first since the Islands Solid Waste bylaw was adopted in 1994. In fact, Mr. Holland pointed out, the fee started off at $20 and has been dropped several times to the present $17. As for recycling, he says the program runs at a loss each year. “We should look at dropping recycling altogether,” he said to council. Either that or he would like to charge an extra $5 a month for the islanders’ privilege of taking cardboard, office paper and other recyclables to the depot. He acknowledges that people will be concerned, but says cutting recycling will only hasten the projected closure of the final landfill (in 2044) by a couple of years. Recycling may bring in $29,000 a year, but the cost of shipping the materials off the islands on BC Ferries alone takes up $25,000 of that, he said. Other costs put the program in a deficit. Other than cutting the recycling program, Mr. Holland admitted he is focused on increasing revenue, rather than decreasing system expenditures, which rang in at $890,000 last year.  “We need to look more toward revenue . unless we come up with a different way to do business,” he said. Other revenue generators include boosting fees paid by the two band councils to use the landfill and recycling system.  Mr. Holland is proposing charging a $22 per-month, per-user fee in Skidegate and Old Massett as well, potentially boosting revenue by $36,000 and $21,000 from each community respectively. “Everyone will be paying the same,” he said. Previously, the band councils paid a set fee for usage. Not only was the fee not equivalent to other community’s payments, but the two band councils do not have a bag limit either.  Tipping fees will also be increased, along with commercial fees and opting out of the garbage user fee will no longer be an option, he said. All of these increases will be implemented with no increase to services, he said. Although he’s not happy with the status quo in operations, Mr. Holland says it isn’t feasible to make major changes to a system that is being run from afar in Prince Rupert. At first he considered hiring an on-island coordinator, as was suggested in a recent report prepared by Laurie Gallant of Footprint Environmental Strategies.  But Mr. Holland said that expenditure has now been tossed aside. He was discouraged by the consultant’s report, as she did not suggest any immediate solutions to the financial problems. Ms Gallant has been working with the Regional district since July 2007. Her report is not final, he said, but essentially she suggests many improvements to the waste management system, most which will cost more money. Mr. Holland says waste management on islands is difficult enough to deal with without enhancing the program. At the meeting, the Observer asked how the garbage system got into such a mess.  Mr. Holland said one of the reasons for the deficit is a shortage of funds to close the landfill. Stage one of the landfill has to close this summer, at a projected cost of $600,000.  Over the past five years, the RD has set aside $30,000 a year to close the site, but this has not been enough. In 2007, this was boosted to $75,000 and he plans to set aside $45,000 for the next four years starting in 2008. In 2008, the start-up costs for stage two at the landfill must be paid, totaling around $85,000. But the answer to the question is more complicated. In an interview after the meeting, QC Councillor Greg Martin, a member of the Islands Solid Waste Advisory Committee, noted that he tried to make a motion regarding a complete review of the waste bylaw, programs and contracts in 2006.  But the administrator at the time would not allow any one to second the motion, he said, and his concern was not registered in the minutes. Mr. Martin says ISWAC has not been able to do its job to implement the islands portion of the waste plan because administration had not been providing them with information. He says decisions, like potentially bringing contaminated soil from Kitkatla, were made in Prince Rupert without ever being brought to ISWAC. Mr. Martin doesn’t support the plan to chop recycling to save money and says he’s sure money could be saved in other ways. “It’s unfortunate it took so many years. Normally a program is reviewed every five years,” says Mr. Martin. Mayor Carol Kulesha thanked Mr. Holland for his report and said council had work to do now. “We have political things to do now that we are aware of the problem,” she said.

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