Two conveyer belts filled with garbage are seen sloping up toward the ceiling in an industrial setting. In the centre-right of the frame, a worker wearing a high-visibility orange suit, blue hard hat, and respirator mask operates the conveyer belt to the right.
A worker operates conveyer belts in the front end processor at Otter Lake in a photo in a slide deck included in the staff report to council. — Photo: HRM

Halifax councillors yesterday voted to make a fundamental change at the Otter Lake Landfill. The dump operators and a triad of consultant reports say the change won’t make any difference besides saving money, but critics say it could lead to increased smells, birds, and varmints and affect nearby neighbourhoods.

At issue are the Front End Processor (FEP) and Waste Stabilization Facility (WSF), which the municipality has been trying to shutter for years. As Zane Woodford reported on July 5:

When garbage trucks pull up to Otter Lake, they dump their loads onto the floor of the FEP. The waste then goes through stages of sorting. First, big bulky items, recyclables, and things like gas cylinders and batteries are sorted out, and then the larger material goes directly to the landfill and smaller material goes to the WSF for stabilization. In the WSF, the smaller waste is aerated and turned for 15 days, and then sent out to the landfill as low-grade compost.

The process came from the 1995 Integrated Waste/Resource Management Strategy, adopted by the municipalities that later became HRM — Halifax, Dartmouth, Bedford, and Halifax County. That strategy was focused on composting, and led to HRM’s green cart program in 1999 — one of the first in North America. It also set the parameters for a new landfill in response to the community concerns from the last dump, along Highway 101 in Sackville.

At yesterday’s meeting, Andrew Philopoulos, the municipality’s director of Solid Waste Resources, told councillors that the FEP/WSF wasn’t necessary and might even be adding to, not reducing, odours at the dump.

Should the facility be closed and complaints about birds or odours increase, Philopoulos sail that dump operators would make sure operations at the “tipping face” — where trucks empty their loads into the cell — are up to standards. For example, birds can be controlled with falcons, said Philopoulos, and operators can increase the dirt covering of new loads.

Philopoulos said that because the FEP/WSF will be on “standby” mode, if problems persist, they can be re-activated in a matter of weeks. He said they would be maintained in good working order for at least five years.

The proposed closure of the FEP/WSF is of a set of changes intended to extend the life of the dump and decrease costs. In 2015, the clear bag policy was implemented, which Philopoulos said by itself reduced residential garbage going to the dump by 25%. Beginning in 2016, the municipality allowed “Institutional, Commercial, & Industrial” (ICI) garbage to be diverted to other dumps in the province but outside HRM, which brought an annual savings to businesses of $5.2 million. With those changes, garbage ending up at Otter Lake dropped from 134,000 tonnes annually to just over 45,000 tonnes annually.

But the Community Monitoring Committee, which was established when the dump was opened and represents people in neighbouring communities of Timberlea and Beechville, remains opposed to closing the FEP/WSF. Chair Scott Guthrie spoke to council yesterday, reiterating his group’s opposition to the plan.

Council voted 13-3 in favour of a motion that would have the municipality apply for provincial approval to close the FEP/WSF. Councillors Iona Stoddard, David Hendsbee, and Trish Purdy voted no; Councillor Shawn Cleary was absent for the vote; all other councillors voted in favour.

It may all be moot. In 2014, then-Provincial Environmental Minister Sterling Belliveau wrote a letter to the municipality saying that the province would not allow the facilities to be closed. There have been several bills related to the operation of the dump, most notably 2016’s Bill 176, “An Act to Maintain the Current Footprint and Certain Requirements of the Otter Lake Landfill,” which was a private member’s bill introduced by Iain Rankin, who is now premier.

Iain Rankin’s father is Reg Rankin, the former municipal councillor and current member of the Community Monitoring Committee, who has been outspoken in his opposition to closing the FEP/SWF. And Iain Rankin represents the Timberlea community, which is generally opposed to any changes at the dump.

It seems highly unlikely that a provincial government with Rankin at the helm will allow the changes the municipality is seeking.

Tim Bousquet

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

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  1. We’ve lived in Timberlea for 32 years and can vouch that on at least several occasions, when something has gone wrong at the Otter Lake Landfill, the smell can be really awful. On those occasions we complained to Reg Rankin, our councillor at the time, and he admitted that there had ‘been a problem’ at the landfill. It would be terrible to have to deal with that smell on a regular basis.