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The City of Vancouver’s landfill site in Delta, B.C., in August 2011. (John Lehmann/The Globe and Mail)
The City of Vancouver’s landfill site in Delta, B.C., in August 2011. (John Lehmann/The Globe and Mail)

Waste-to-energy plant’s high price tag gives B.C. politicians pause Add to ...

As planning for a new waste-to-energy plant in Metro Vancouver picks up speed, some politicians and business groups want to put on the brakes, citing misgivings about the high cost and how the $500-million project would affect the amount and type of garbage handled in the region.

“I know there is growing concern that we appear to be proceeding down a path, and spending tax dollars, without all the current facts and a strong public policy basis to proceed,” Coquitlam mayor Richard Stewart wrote in a March 28 letter to Metro Vancouver.

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The City of Coquitlam first asked for a “comprehensive assessment” of risks and assumptions relating to the project in a 2011 letter to the province and has since made several requests through Metro Vancouver staff but has not received a “current business case,” Mr. Stewart said in his letter.

“Our council has taken the position that we need that business case update in order to properly make the decision to proceed,” he added.

The regional government says a new waste-to-energy facility is necessary to handle garbage that can’t be recycled and dovetails with plans to divert 80 per cent of garbage from landfills by 2020.

In 2012, Metro Vancouver launched a multistage planning process that is supposed to result in a new facility.

But the notion of a waste-to-energy site is controversial and last week, one potential site dropped off the list after Nanaimo city council voted against the project even before pending consultation had begun.

Nanaimo was one of four communities identified last November as potential sites for the project.

The others were Delta, Vancouver and Port Mellon. Nanaimo politicians cited environmental concerns in rejecting the project.

More “communal” sites – ones deemed suitable for all qualified proponents in the process – are expected to be announced this year.

The waste-management industry, meanwhile, has been raising its own concerns, which include worries about proposed legislation that would restrict the flow of garbage outside of the region.

The proposed legislation, Bylaw 280, would require garbage generated in Metro Vancouver to be handled at regional facilities and prevent waste haulers from taking it to other sites outside Metro Vancouver that charge a lower fee to handle it.

The rationale for the bylaw – which would have to be approved by the province before coming into effect – is to prevent unsorted garbage being shipped to cheap landfills in, for example, Abbotsford or Washington State.

But some groups see the proposed bylaw as a flawed tool designed to generate a steady stream of garbage for the waste-to-energy facility by preventing haulers from taking it outside the region.

“If you have a facility that you are going to build for ‘x’ amount of dollars, you have to ensure that you’re going to be able to feed it,” James Bradley, a director of the Waste Management Association of B.C., said on Monday.

The Waste Management Association has been lobbying against the bylaw.

Metro Vancouver endorsed it last year. The province now has the final say.

Metro Vancouver’s Zero Waste Committee is scheduled to meet on April 28.

As part of its overall waste strategy, Metro Vancouver will also ban compostable material from garbage collection in 2015. Most municipalities, including Vancouver, have already introduced food-waste collection programs in single-family neighbourhoods and are expanding those programs to apartment and condominium buildings.

Follow on Twitter: @wendy_stueck

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