There’s a price to pay for Metro Vancouver diverting its food and garden waste away from the landfill.
About four years ago, in a bid to cut down on methane gas emissions, cities across Metro Vancouver agreed to begin banning food and garden waste from ending up in the landfill.
The question is, at what point does it become too expensive for the company charged with recycling the organics from our green bins to operate without overtly impacting the lives of Richmond residents?
At the moment, all parties concerned — composting firm Harvest Power, Metro Vancouver and local residents — agree that it’s the people who are footing the bill for the pungent odours emanating from the east Richmond plant, which has the contract to accept and process the majority of the region’s organic waste.
A higher than anticipated volume of organic waste, growing complaints over the years and the pending renewal of a Metro Vancouver air contaminant permit paved the way to a town hall meeting last week involving the stakeholders, including around 40-50 concerned Richmond residents.
Harvest admitted at the meeting in a Richmond hotel that it had “dropped the ball” in terms of managing the odour output, but said it had made a number of recent modifications to its operations, near No. 7 and Blundell roads, and hoped it would have an effect in the next month or two.
However, according to Metro Vancouver, there are other technologies available to the company, not currently being used at Harvest, that are being utilized in similar operations in other parts of the world.
“Harvest didn’t commit to saying they would use all (technology) that is available to them. They’re still deciding if they can do it,” said Ray Robb, Metro Vancouver’s director of regulation and enforcement.
“There are things that can be done, but it’s a question of cost.
“At what point is it still economically viable to provide this public service, while protecting the interests of the environment and the community?
“Can we issue a permit that protects people’s quality of life and allows an operation to be economically viable?”
However, it was, added Robb, made abundantly clear to Metro and Harvest Power at the town hall that the “current situation is not acceptable.”
Asked by the News why other technology or practices to contain the odours are not being used, Harvest Power said it’s examining all options, but indicated that the apparently prohibitive cost is only one factor.
“Viability is another; i.e., will they actually work?” said Harvest spokesperson Stephen Bruyneel.
“Applicability (is) another…will they work at the site? So you have to look at them altogether, which is what Harvest continues to do.”
One of the residents affected, Elizabeth Benson, said a lot of upset people voiced their concerns at the meeting.
“Many left disappointed, I think they thought the company could be shut down,” said Benson, who lives near Steveston on Gilbert and Maple roads, several kilometres away from the facility.
“There were no health experts there, which was a shame.
“I can smell it off and on, usually late mornings. Harvest was very apologetic at the meeting and seemed interested in fixing the problem.”
Benson said she and some of the residents spoke to Harvest and Metro Vancouver about setting up a community advisory panel, so the residents could stay informed in the future and have their concerns heard first-hand.
“Harvest and Metro Vancouver seemed willing, but not everyone was approving of that. Some (residents) thought it was selling out and accepting of the situation,” said Benson.
Mark Salopek was one of skeptics. “…I have little faith in the (advisory panel)…and until there is stronger regulatory oversight of Harvest, participating in (a panel)…will be simply going over and over the same issues without resolution,” Salopek said in an email.
“Until Harvest is held to account, financially and environmentally, there is little value (in a panel)...”
Robb said the meeting was valuable in terms of both Metro and Harvest Power hearing first-hand how people are affected.
“It was very much an information exchange…but it doesn’t solve the problems,” said Robb.
“Harvest said they have made some changes and modified some processes. But they did say it would take a while for the changes to take effect, however. It could take many weeks before it’s noticed.”
Robb said Metro is still working through the air contaminant permit process with Harvest Power and that it’s allowing the company time to respond, in terms of how it’s going to address the public’s concerns.
“Only then will we consider issuing a permit that takes everything into consideration,” he added.
“We are still taking in people’s concerns and will do up to 30 days after the public meeting (which was March 3). But we will also consider comments made right up to the day we issue the permit.
“The company may also have their own concerns about the permit we intend to issue; it’s all about negotiations.”
It’s very rare, said Robb, that Metro doesn’t issue a permit.
Harvest told the News this week that, in terms of “dropping the ball,” the management of the odour from its facility “requires a constant focus and attention on operations and the people that do the work...if that isn’t going on, then odour problems can arise.”
The company has also set up a “hotline” for complaints which it said will be frequently monitored. The number is 604-836-8387. In addition, people can email RichmondAirPermit@HarvestPower.com.
However, the company is asking that callers be as specific as possible about the time, location, nature of the smell and duration, as well as letting them know when they don’t smell the pong on days or times that they normally do.
All the information discussed at the town hall is available online at RichmondAirPermit.ca.