Photo: Halifax Examiner
Photo: Halifax Examiner

I’ll be live-blogging tomorrow’s meeting, starting at 10am, via the Examiner’s Twitter feed, @hfxExaminer.

Dump issues

I’m old enough to remember when  the perfectly good term “dump” that describe the place we literally dump our garbage morphed into the feel-good “landfill.” But besides making no sense at all—how do you fill land?—I object to the word because it obfuscates that we are in fact dumping crap out in the country somewhere. Sure, we can do that in better or worse ways, but that’s what we’re doing. So I’m reverting back to using “dump.” Let’s call things as they are.

CAO Richard Butts has been trying to push through a series of changes at with the garbage system. Some of these changes involved increasing the amount of “diversion” from the dump—requiring clear plastic bags for garbage, for example—and making the green waste system work better—requiring Kraft bags, prohibiting grass clippings in green bins. From a making-the-system-work-better perspective, these changes make a lot of sense, although of course some people are put off by them for their own reasons.

More controversial have been Butts’ proposals to extend the life of the dump. As long understood (more on this momentarily), the dump would close in 2024, and Butts’ proposals would extend that closure date many years into the future. He’d do that in part by changing policy to allow commercial waste to be trucked to dumps in other parts of Nova Scotia, and in part by raising the planned height of the dump cells by 15 metres. Additional changes at the dump itself would do away with the front end processor, which catches recyclables and organics that people have been throwing in their garbage bags.

The idea of extending the life of the dump particularly irritated the Halifax Waste Society, which if I understand correctly is a sort of private extension of the Community Monitoring Society set up to oversee dump operations.

Last January, council accepted the less controversial parts of Butts’ proposals, but punted the more controversial parts to the future, that is, to now. In the meanwhile, the issue would be discussed by a committee set up of city staff and members appointed by the Halifax Waste Society Board of Directors.

Amazingly, to me anyway, the Society agreed to most of the changes, albeit with lots of caveats. They can be summarized as follows:

Shipping garbage out of HRM and raising tipping fees at Otter Lake

The Society had no problem with this proposal, albeit I’m sure environmentalists will scream foul. Keeping our own waste local was a fundamental part of establishing the Otter Lake dump and the recycling and green waste systems created alongside it.

Commercial waste—that is, garbage from apartment buildings and businesses—was never properly integrated into the system. Apartment buildings are serviced by private haulers, who are now charged $125/tonne at the dump. Actual costs for processing the garbage at the dump are $170/tonne, so city staff is recommending tipping fees be increased to that amount.

But clearly that increase will be passed along to apartment owners. There’s a certain genius to allowing the haulers to export the garbage out of HRM to cheaper dumps in other counties: it undercuts what would surely be a political firestorm if every apartment owner in town saw their garbage bills increasing by 50 percent, and at the same time stops a lot of garbage from going to Otter Lake, making feasible the extension of the life of the dump.

Of course, the reason the dumps in other counties have lower tipping fees is that they don’t process the garbage to the same standards that HRM does.

Do away with the front end processor

The Society backed off its opposition to this proposal, provided it is thoroughly involved in every step of finding a replacement process.

Raising the height of the dump and extending its life beyond 2024

Quite remarkably, the Society has agreed to these proposals as well. Well, sort of. It was discovered that the agreements signed at the creation of the dump didn’t actually spell out a 2024 closure date, but rather anticipated such a closure date. Here’s how the staff report puts it:

Due to the success of diversion programs and other changes to the operating model including those resulting from the most recent strategy review, the Otter Lake facility will not reach capacity as a landfill by 2024. As a result of discussions with the Society, staff and the Society have reviewed this matter and despite the expectations that some people have in the community to the contrary, have been unable to locate any authority for the proposition that the Otter Lake facility operations end in 2024.

As set out in the Report, the Mirror Agreement at Section 24.2 only requires HRM to permanently close the facilities at the end of the operating term: a) if it elects to do so, or b) if the facilities have reached capacity and no additional permits can be obtained to permit further waste to be disposed of at the site. It is not now anticipated that the facility would reach capacity or that additional permits could not be obtained until sometime after 2024.

Well, OK then.

There are lots of details and caveats that are too complicated to go into here, but it looks like Butts got most of what he wanted, assuming council goes along with the proposals.

Tender awards

Avondale Construction—$751,025 for renovation of the washrooms at the $48 NSF Fee Centre (formerly the $45 NSF Fee Centre, and formerly the Metro Centre).

Governance issues

Traffic Authority—Taso Koutroulakis has been serving as the city’s “provisional” traffic authority since the tragic death of Ken Reashor earlier this year. His provisional term expired last week, so council is extending it through next spring. Staff will make a recommendation for a full-time appointment in the spring. Everyone seems to like Koutroulakis, so I expect it’ll be him, but I guess they have to do a proper search.

Gas tax—there are new multiyear gas tax agreements between the provincial and federal governments, and between the province and municipality. The short of it is that Halifax will get about $24 million a year for the next five years.

Cherry Brook Community Centre—just for curiosity’s sake, here’s the crazy history of the Cherry Brook Community Centre site:

Ownership of this property is derived from a June 1951 grant from the Crown to “Trustees of School Section No.58 in the District of Preston” which makes back reference to an earlier grant issued in April 1914. The preamble to the 1951 grant indicates it was made because of an error in description in the 1914 grant. The 1914 grant was to the Trustees of School Section No. 48 and the 1951 grant corrected this to School Section 58. Both documents include the same survey sketch which indicates the existence of a school house on the property at that time.

The Lake Loon school burned to the ground in December 1951 and a new school was built in 1952.

The building appears to have been declared surplus sometime in the late 1970s or early 1980s but the exact date is unclear.

And then:

The building has not been in use since approximately 1990 and records indicate that the power to the building was disconnected in 2004. Due to the condition of the building, repair and recapitalization was not deemed to be an option. As a result, a tender was issued for the demolition of the building in 2009. However, the local Councillor requested that consultation with the community be completed prior to the demolition. The demolition was not completed and further discussions were initiated with the Lake Loon Cherry Brook Development Association (LLCBDA).

Now, council is being asked to tear down the building but turn the property into a trailhead for the trail network in the area.

Wellington Street development

An architectural rendering of the proposed buildings is plopped atop a google map.
An architectural rendering of the proposed buildings is plopped atop a google map.

It’s bizarre that some councillors are forcing this development proposal forward, despite a clear staff rejection of the plan and despite well-organized neighbourhood opposition that will undoubtedly spill over to legal action should council approve it. The proposal is the subject of a public hearing scheduled for 6pm. I gave the background of the issue here.

Since then, I’ve received the following press release:


December 7, 2014


The recently formed Park to Park Community Association takes its battle to Regional Council Tuesday (Dec. 9) to continue the efforts to thwart Dino Capital’s amended plan to build a 142-unit, two-tower, multi-storey development on a short, two-block residential street in south end Halifax. The project would immediately abut Gorsebrook Park, a large and intensively-used green space, multi-season recreational area and community garden.  

Pat Whitman, chair of Park to Park, says the neighbourhood group’s battle is not just a Wellington Street issue, but is happening all over HRM.  “Developers are amassing properties to plop down multi-storey condominium or rental buildings by requesting Municipal Planning Strategy and Zoning By-law amendments,” she said.  “Is this a rush to get such developments passed before the Centre Plan is revised or local area plans get updated?”

The amendment application by Dino Capital, owned by Stavros (Steve) Tsimiklis, proposes to replace four family homes with a two-, 8- and 10-storey condo complex although over 90 % of homes on the street and in the neighbourhood are three storeys or less. The current zoning allows for 35 ft. height and 40% lot coverage. The Dino application wants to use over 75% of the lot and proposes very limited setbacks.  

The application argues that the short street already has two adjacent tall structures built in the 1960’s.  “However, these each have lot coverage of less than 40% and would not receive approval under today’s guidelines,” Whitman says, adding that the application’s “mass and soulless” design appearance is totally at odds with the current character of the neighbourhood and some elements such as minimal tower separation do not meet recommended construction standards

Over 100 residents attended each of two public information meetings raising their concerns over a proposed development for a residential side street which would not be approved in downtown Halifax. Councillors, Mason and Watts have voted to reject Dino’s request.  HRM planning staff have strongly rejected the proposal as being aggressively seeking density and insensitive to the neighbourhood. In addition, a petition signed by 1,047 HRM residents — from every HRM district — has been submitted to Council, supporting good development but not this application.  Tuesday’s public hearing begins in Council chambers at 6pm.

Tim Bousquet is the editor and publisher of the Halifax Examiner. Twitter @Tim_Bousquet Mastodon

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  1. The December 9th Public Hearing about the Dino proposal for a massive high rise on Wellington Street went along smoothly as all but about 4 of the 49 speakers spoke against approval of the project. But then Dino’s lawyer, as the last speaker, offered a major alteration to the proposal that would have a slightly shorter building with greater setbacks. The information he presented made it obvious that this change had been fully designed long before the Public Hearing had started. A few Councillors wanted to vote right away on this last minute proposal that, of course, had been completely hidden from the public until the Dino’s lawyer spoke of it. The city solicitor present doubted that such an immediate vote would be correct and said he would have to “research” the issue. In the event, no vote on this last minute change occurred. So it will be interesting to see if this attempt to slip something through without any chance for public input will be approved later.
    Dino Capital’s contempt for the mandated public process for considering MPS amendments seems evident, Do its actions amount to abuse of process at the expense of HRM taxpayers?

    By the way, though some residents of District 7 may be wealthy they are scarce in the Wellington Street neighbourhood.

  2. Re. Dino on Wellington = a no-brainer (literally)

    I don’t get it.

    The local residents don’t want this development, a selection of residents from outside the immediate area have spoken out against it, the proposal contravenes regulations in several ways, and city planners advised against allowing it. So why is it still an issue?

    I’d like every councillor voting to accept this proposal to explain their reasoning behind supporting it. I’d also like to hear directly from the constituents these councillors claim they’re representing. It should not be possible that this development be accepted entirely by the whims of councillors who’s constituents are not directly effected by it (just as I wouldn’t want my representative taking a stand on any issue effecting residents of Sackville, Bedford or Cole Harbour.)

    This is a no-brainer, yet it’s still being argued. I’d love to see you dig in to this one Tim, what a sickening waste of time and energy.

  3. The Halifax Waste Resource Society’s position is much different than as presented here.

    First, on garbage export, we acknowledged that most people living around the Otter Lake Landfill Facility would likely be happy if half the waste did not go in there, because it is likely that most don’t want any waste going there at all. However, we pointed out that this is not a universally held position, and we recommended strongly that the public be given an opportunity to speak directly to Council on this issue as there had been no public consultation on it to date, and staff were trying to get it passed without any. Council agreed with us and there will be full public hearing on the issue.

    The Society has not backed off on the front end processing, not even a tiny bit. It is adamant that it must stay in place as long as there is putrescible organic material going to the facility. Further, we reject any future attempt by staff to unilaterally close it, and said we must be included in any such discussion, as is mandated in the Community Monitoring Agreement.

    Neither has the Society backed down on the closure of the landfill by 2023. We do acknowledge though that there is no legal document that says that it cannot be kept open past then, and we have had a lawyer review all of the documents. We do repeatedly point out though that the community was nonetheless told back in the 90’s that the landfill would be open for 25 years. Ultimately it is Council’s decision; we will continue to ensure that the decision is made with the full understanding of what was promised to the community in 2023.

    We do not agree on raising the height of the landfill. Staff has recommended that be done, and it the decision rests with Council, not the Society. We have made sure that if Council makes the decision to raise the height of the landfill, existing community and environmental protection is maintained or enhanced, and that the Community Monitoring Committee has an opportunity to review all of the relevant engineering studies and reports.

    Keep in mind the report was written by staff for Council. The Society would not have made those recommendations.

    Finally, a comparison review of the original staff recommendations against the ones that went to Council today would show that staff most definitely did not get most of what they wanted in January.

  4. I strongly recommend that anyone thinking about dumps read the book “Rubbish! The Archaeology of Garbage.” The authors dispel a lot of myths about dumps and garbage.

    The below cost tipping fees for apartment building haulers implies they are getting a discount. Does single family garbage pay its own way? Are apartment owners getting a break on municipal taxes because they pay for their own garbage removal?

  5. Otter Lake landfill will become a 2016 election issue. The failure of HRM to establish a firm end date to landfill operations can only mean that they will keep the landfill open as long as possible past the Dec 31, 2023 end date that the public was originally promised back in 1997 and can the end date can be be found as a finite statement in the definition for the “Operational Term” (25 years from the acceptance date for the landfill). The landfill is accepted to have opened on January 1st, 1999.

    During the review, new technologies, that have the proven potential to divert 90% or more waste materials from being buried in the landfill, have not been discussed with the public, and have essentially been off the table as a future strategy at this time. Near sighted to say the least; but we will keep informing Council about these new technologies as days move onwards. Up to this point Council is very aware, if they have read their emails, of how to reduce landfill burying of waste without the need to raise the existing height of Otter Lake’s waste material storage cells; but HRM staff have not presented any of these options to Regional Council as a recommended future solution.

    Tomorrow’s Committee of the Whole will likely be a significant disappointment to the residents of the communities that surround the Otter Lake landfill and should be a disappointment to ALL residents of HRM as a short sighted solution that has thus far cost HRM taxpayers nearly one million dollars to achieve an HRM staff recommended solution that is in stark disagreement with the publicly stated wishes of HRM’s residents. One has to really wonder about why public engagements are held, if the mandate from the public that has so clearly been given to the municipal authority can be ignored so completely as it has throughout this so-called “open and transparent” solid waste resource management review.

    Here is a link to an article that discusses a Canada-wide Energy from Waste (EFW) poll that found that 92% of Atlantic Canadian respondents felt that EFW was acceptable to be a part of a municipal solid waste processing strategy: