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Vancouver polluting plants to pay for pungent odours, not taxpayers

Vince Voth of West Coast Reduction Ltd. collects used cooking grease from the Boathouse restaurant in Vancouver, British Columbia, Monday, November 14, 2011.

For The Globe and Mail/Rafal Gerszak

Metro Vancouver is drafting a bylaw that may soon see pungent processing plants pay in accordance with the odours they emit.

The move comes after a spike in odour complaints at West Coast Reduction Ltd., a rendering plant located at the north end of Commercial Drive in Vancouver. The plant renders more than 10,000 tonnes of animal byproducts each week, converting them into such things as tallow and byproduct meal, according to the company's website.

The rendering process produces a strong smell that only intensifies in hot weather. When the temperature reached 28 degrees in Vancouver last weekend, 50 people called to complain, said Ray Robb, regulation and enforcement division manager at Metro Vancouver, which deals with air emissions in the region. It is an unusually high figure for a plant that typically generates a total of around 200 odour complaints a year.

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"That's 50 people that have gotten so fed up that they've gone to the trouble of figuring out who to phone and giving us a call," Mr. Robb said.

Fraser Richmond Soil and Fibre, a major composting company with its flagship operation in east Richmond, generates a similar amount of odour complaints each year.

With the region's increasing emphasis on sustainable endeavours comes a growing need for odour management plans and a polluter-pay model, Mr. Robb said.

"We get people expressing anger and frustration, and feel they've been victimized or humiliated," he said. "They get woken up in the middle of the night by the smell, or have to close their windows on a hot summer evening, or can't plan barbecues or weddings out of fear of embarrassment."

Under the new bylaw – which, following stakeholder workshops and consultations, is expected to be in place by spring – processing plants will be assigned a risk category based on proximity to residents and type and quantity of product processed.

Low-risk facilities, such as farms and small yard-waste composting operations, will be granted immediate authorization, while medium-risk facilities that process some non-green waste will require a management plan and incur fees of between $500 to $2,000 per year.

High-risk facilities, such as rendering plants and large composting operations, will require a permit and an odour measurement and dispersion model. Fees for these facilities would vary depending on impact, but could be up to $150,000.

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Metro Vancouver currently spends between $100,000 and $300,000 a year following up on complaints; the new model would shift financial responsibility from taxpayers to polluters, Mr. Robb said.

"If you cause emissions that cause impacts, and we need to spend money dealing with that, then you should be paying for that," he said of the polluter-pay model.

Lionel Black, who lives near the West Coast Reduction plant, says he looks forward to not having to close his windows in the summer.

"It's revolting as hell," he said, "especially when the wind comes this way."

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Based in Vancouver, Andrea Woo is a general assignment reporter with a focus on multimedia journalism. More

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