Yesterday’s meeting of Halifax council involved a lot of wide-ranging conversation and debate, which often raises the ire of people who think that the less discussion the better. But I think we all benefit from longer discussion of issues.
But unfortunately it’s late in the day, so I’ll make this a quick and short recap of what happened yesterday. For more detailed discussion of the issues, see the council preview.
Placing garbage on the curb is probably most people’s most immediate interaction with city government. It certainly generates the most discussion, both at council itself and with people on the street. I was on Sheldon MacLeod’s talk show earlier today and the phone lines lit up, with every caller wanting to talk trash.
Council was deciding on what proposal would be placed before the public for comment, at a public hearing scheduled for November. So while council adopted a proposed bylaw, it won’t vote to approve the bylaw until after the public hearing; if you have strong feelings for or against the proposal, show up at the hearing and express them.
Yesterday, council agreed on a simplified version of the bylaw proposed in the summer. The new version will decrease the maximum bag limit from six to four per household, per garbage collection day. At least three of those bags must be clear bags, but the fourth can be a dark bag.
The bylaw won’t apply to people who live in apartment buildings, because building owners contract with commercial haulers for garbage pick-up.
Most of the complaints I’ve heard about the proposed bylaw involve poop. For example, councillor Gloria McCluskey said that one of her neighbours has “a very large dog” that generates seven bags filled with poop every collection day. “What is he supposed to do?,” she asked. CAO Richard Butts answered that the city can’t be adopting a policy for 180,000 people that addresses the peculiar needs of a small number of large dog owners, and said the man could contact a commercial hauler.
Other people have said that their children generate more than four bags in soiled diapers per collection day. I’m not a parent so am not the best person to comment on this, but I wonder if cloth diapers or a diaper service are time or financially prohibitive. Maybe they are.
But understand that councillors are not proposing the changes just to be mean-spirited. Rather, they are addressing the very high costs of simply operating the landfill, and the crazy high cost of building a new landfill. In fact, it is exactly those high costs that is driving Butts’ proposal to extend the life of the Otter Lake Landfill beyond its scheduled 2024 closing date.
Additionally, the province has established a goal of reducing per capita waste generation to 300 kilograms per person annually. Currently, Halifax’s per person number is higher than 380kg, and the city is actively resisting speedy implementation of the province’s goal.
So if council backs off the four bag limit it will both cost a lot of money and violate the provincial mandate.
Councillor Steve Craig wanted a series of other proposed changes in waste policy to be run by the public hearing, but council rejected that idea and opted to simply implement them without public input. They’ll be part of an administrative order that will be passed this fall. They include banning grass clippings from green bins, having box board go into blue bags rather than in green bins, and placing yard wast in Kraft paper bags rather than in orange plastic bags. All these changes are intended to improve both the quality and the speed of the composting process.
Nothing gets councillors’ attention like concerned merchants, so discussion of a new sidewalk cafe bylaw was also lengthy. But only minor changes were made to the original proposal.
The biggest issue for councillors was the requirement that restaurants who have sidewalk cafes on city property increase their insurance coverage from $2 million, the amount adopted in 1997, to $5 million, consistent with other city insurance requirements today. Merchants said the higher insurance requirements are unnecessary and onerous, and so on the suggestion of councillor Reg Rankin, council split the difference: it raised the requirement to $3 million. But I’m told that insurers don’t have $3 million policies. It’s either $2 million or straight up to $5 million. So a $3 million requirement is actually a $5 million requirement. This is what happens when council adopts policy on the fly.
Without much discussion, council approved the proposed protected bike lane on University Avenue. The cost of the lane is paid for by Dalhousie University and the province, but the city will actually build it and install the bollards separating it from car traffic, and will be responsible for snow removal and fixing pot holes.
The lane is a two-year pilot project, after which the city can either do away with it or make it permanent by building better separation barriers.