Partnership in waste management project in jeopardy
Environment: Foothills municipalities vote not to pay SAEWA invoice
By: John Barlow
| Posted: Wednesday, Feb 13, 2013 05:43 pm
Participation from foothills municipalities in one of the largest waste management projects in Alberta could be in jeopardy after the local landfill committee balked at paying its membership fee.
The Foothills Regional Landfill Commission (FRLC) is currently a member of the Southern Alberta Energy from Waste Association (SAEWA) which is comprised of 16 waste management authorities representing more than 60 municipalities. With limited landfill space available and with provincial restrictions on developing new landfills SAEWA’s wants to develop an energy from waste Explain this facility in Southern Alberta.
SAEWA was established in 2010 and in that time the partners have developed various scenarios to build an energy from waste facility, which is expected to cost upwards of $500 million.
The FRLC, which includes the Towns of High River, Black Diamond, Turner Valley and Okotoks, the Village of Longview and the MD of Foothills, are member of SAEWA, but now members are questioning the cost of being involved.
Foothills MD Coun. Ted Mills said the Foothills commission elected not to pay its most recent invoice from SAEWA because it missed a deadline to have a business plan in place.
“Each year there is a membership fee of $25,000 and we told them we were not prepared to continue paying the fee to the consultant if they were not going to come up with a business plan,” said Mills. “We were supposed to see a business plan in 2012 and it hasn’t happened. Without a business plan I don’t think we should be in this from a financial standpoint.”
The FRLC board tied 3-3 in a vote on whether to pay the fees, effectively denying the motion and withholding the member payment.
Mills said the decision was not a condemnation of the project. He said he simply could not support such a massive project if there were continued delays to put a financial plan in place.
“This is not about whether the facility is a good idea of not,” said Mills. “It is strictly about a business plan. This was not a popular decision, but I think it was the right one.”
Okotoks Coun. Laurie Hodson was one of the three who voted in support.
Hodson said the $25,000 membership was not significant and represented just 0.6 per cent of the landfill commission’s annual tipping fees. He said the SAEWA project is a complicated undertaking and needed time.
“This is a $500 million project and no one wants to make the wrong move,” said Hodson. “This decision has hit SAEWA hard. We are not an insignificant commission.”
In fact, according to a SAEWA report the FRLC would potentially be on the project’s largest customers.
A SAEWA summary report from January 2012 shows Foothills would likely be the partnership’s second largest customer with about 37,000 tonnes of disposable waste each year. The Lethbridge Regional commission would be the largest client with more than 50,000 tonnes of waste annually.
However, Mills said the costs of the project were spiraling and without a business plan in place he was concerned they would be putting the Foothills landfill in a precarious position.
“We just had no idea at what this would cost,” said Mills. “It started at $300 million and then went to $500 million in two years. The costs were too unstable. ”
Paul Ryan, vice-chair of SAEWA and Coun. with the MD of Bighorn, said no other members have voted not to pay their membership fee and Foothills did not vote to leave the partnership nor have they been asked to step down.
If FRLC did elect to withdraw from SAEWA entirely, Ryan said the partnership will press on.
“Should Foothills withdraw they will be missed but it will not significantly change the amount of waste available to the project,” he said. “Membership in SAEWA has grown substantially since Foothills originally joined.”
He said the individual municipalities would be able to join the partnership on their own as well.
As for the delay in tabling a business plan Ryan said there were numerous reasons being behind schedule; the most significant was finding new administration after the County of Vulcan was no longer able to provide that support.
“There will always be a few people who think we are not moving fast enough,” said Ryan. “Large projects like this routinely encounter minor interruptions that affect the overall project timing; we are no different,” said Ryan.
Ryan said they are behind about six months, but grant funding is in place to move forward on the Project Development Plan and the Business Plan and options were discussed at the Feb 7 board meeting in Coaldale.
Six municipalities have expressed an interest in hosting the facility including Vulcan County, which is the optimal facility location as its central within the SAEWA communities.Who said this?
SAEWA is currently looking at various technologies for its facility including refuse-derived fuel processing and combustion, mass burn combustion and gasification.
Waste processed at the facility from SAEWA members would be generated into electricity and heat energy with a goal of reducing dependency on landfills.
Ryan said it is hoped the facility will be operating in 2017.
Mills said there is 100 years left in the Foothills landfill and the FRLC will turn its focus to improving its recycling facilities to prolong the life of the landfill.
However, Hodson argued although there is 100 years of unused space at the landfill building new cells will be difficult as residential development expands south of Okotoks.