City doesn't appeal air permit, Harvest Power balks at enforcement measures

Harvest Power has appealed the air quality permit issued to it by Metro Vancouver, as have a number of Richmond residents. The City of Richmond has not.

The composting company lodged its appeal prior to last weekend’s deadline.

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Meanwhile, the B.C. Environmental Appeal Board confirmed it is processing a number of appeals to the Sept. 30 issuance of the permit, by Ray Robb, Metro Vancouver’s district director of environmental regulatory and enforcement services.

At issue are foul odours being emitted from the east Richmond compost facility that many residents say have crippled their quality of life. 

Mayor Malcolm Brodie told the Richmond News there is confidential, legal advice the City of Richmond has been given that indicates there are no assurances an appeal process will result in a favourable decision. Furthermore, Brodie said he understood that an appeal could delay remediation work at Harvest Power by nine to 18 months.

“I’m not about to advocate for initiating legal action unless it is effective,” said Brodie, who indicated that the force of an appeal from the city may be different than that of a citizen. Anyone can appeal, but it costs $25.

According to organizers of Stop the Stink in Richmond — an activist Facebook group dedicated to publicizing concerns about the odours — a group appeal of 30 people was lodged. Meanwhile, a related Change.org petition has reached about 600 signatures over the past week, demanding meaningful action by Harvest Power.

The new permit runs until April, 2020 and the waste-to-energy and composting company will need to improve its infrastructure and comply with new enforcement and monitoring measures to mitigate the stink. 

Harvest Power said it is appealing those measures and not the part of the permit dealing with improved infrastructure.

“We are appealing some of the procedural, reporting, and enforcement provisions in the permit, including the one related to shutting down the facility if there are too many complaints. We believe the District Director exceeded his authority in the way he wrote that specific provision. We also don’t think it is the proper, scientific way to do it,” stated Harvest Power spokesperson Stephen Bruyneel.

Under the permit, the facility will face fewer opportunities in which it will be allowed to produce odours without penalty. For instance, come January, smells may only be detected within five kilometres, twice a week. By 2019, smells may be detected within just three kilometres, once a week. 

If a smell is detected for more than 10 minutes for four days within two weeks, the facility will be forced to stop taking waste, said Robb.

Exactly how it will be determined if Harvest is the culprit of odours in the air has been a point of contention in the past.

In order to determine whether the smell is from Harvest Power, Metro’s district director Robb will depend on written reports from the company, wind direction at the time of the smell and the odours described by the complainants.

On that latter point, city council is urging residents to call Metro Vancouver (604-436-6777) and complain about the odours.

“This problem affects our quality of life. By all means continue complaining,” said Brodie.

As of Monday, Metro Vancouver had received 1,227 complaints related to Harvest Power this year, 681 of which occurred in October alone.

“We know the odours have soared in September and October. A fire in a compost pile added to them. We know they’ve been quite bad,” said Robb.

Robb added his department was “duty bound” to issue a permit to improve the odours. He said if no permit was issued, the company could have appealed (a de-facto shut-down) and such a scenario would have meant the smells continued as is. The new permit is said to allow Harvest Power the opportunity and time to improve its operation.

“It gives us confidence that the stink won’t be as bad as it was this summer,” said Robb.

Brodie is a member of Metro Vancouver’s zero waste council and chair of the National Zero Waste Council, which advocates for less food waste, as well as large-scale organics composting. 

When asked if Metro Vancouver — with the support of local mayors and councillors by way of its board of directors — had properly thought through its 2015 ban on food waste in landfills, Brodie maintained his support for the policy shift.

“We’re not going to backpedal because of the shortfalls of a contractor,” he said.

Brodie said air quality is a Metro Vancouver matter, not a municipal one.

The City of Richmond has asked Metro Vancouver’s board of directors (comprising of Brodie and other regional mayors and councillors) to review the contract it granted Harvest Power, for information.

Robb said the board has not approved additional funding to deal with the increase in complaints, something the city has requested it do.

Correction to above story (11/09/16):

The Richmond News wishes to clarify a statement attributed to Ray Robb, Metro Vancouver’s district director of environmental regulatory and enforcement services, in the Nov. 2 article “City won’t appeal permit.”

The article stated Robb was “duty bound” to issue an air quality permit because Harvest Power has an existing contract with Metro Vancouver.

Robb has since clarified the contract has nothing to do with the Sept. 30 issuance of the new permit.

“It only had to do with my determination with how to have the most beneficial impact on air quality,” said Robb.

Had he not issued a permit, Robb explained Harvest Power would have appealed such a decision and this would have meant no new immediate measures would be taken to mitigate the compost facility’s odours. 

Under the permit, Harvest Power must take measures to mitigate odours and is bound by new enforcement measures, said Robb.

Starting in January, Robb also wished to clarify that Harvest Power will be forced to stop taking in more food waste should the odours be detected outside of a five-kilometre radius for more than 10 minutes on four separate days within a two-week span (and not four straight days, as previously reported).

Harvest Power is appealing the procedural and enforcement measures of the permit.

- Metro Vancouver continues to allow Richmond residents to voice complaints related to Harvest Power operations by calling 604-436-6777 or by filling out a complaint form at MetroVancouver.org (use the search tool to look up air quality complaint form).

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