Ashcroft landfill debate heats up

Much media coverage has been given recently to the issue of why Greater Vancouver residents and businesses must have their waste hauled to Cache Creek instead of at a proposed landfill closer to home.

The provincial government shocked the Greater Vancouver Regional District (GVRD) last month when it withheld approval of the environmental assessment for a new landfill at the so-called Ashcroft Ranch property. The GVRD is behind at least 18 months or more in getting approval for a replacement for Cache Creek, as announced by outgoing Minister of Sustainable Resource Management George Abbott on June 7, to officially amend the Solid Waste Management Plan. This was in spite of a November 2003 letter the province sent to the GVRD confirming that an environmental assessment would cover off the public consultation requirement for amending the plan.

The Cache Creek landfill is expected to be full by the end of 2008. The Ashcroft Ranch — in fact, less than five per cent of the property — was to have accommodated the 450,000 tonnes of Lower Mainland garbage currently hauled to Cache Creek each year (about 40 per cent of the GVRD’s waste). The remainder is sent to the Vancouver landfill in Burns Bog and the Burnaby incinerator. The ranch is owned outright by the GVRD and the area has very little rainfall, so the garbage can decompose without much leachate generation.

There may be a judicial review of the environmental approval process and there’s speculation that fears are tied to native land claims negotiations, even though the Ashcroft Ranch is owned fee simple by the GVRD.

Another disposal option is being put forward by Teck Cominco, together with an environmental consulting firm, the mayor of Logan Lake and a waste hauling firm. Their idea is to build a new landfill on Crown land in the Highland Valley Copper open pit mine. Environmental assessments have begun but there are many hurdles to cross (e.g., potential native land claims, council approval, local opposition, a longer haulage distance, a new road and a long and uncertain approval process).

Another option is to divert more garbage to the Vancouver Landfill in Delta, but moving Cache Creek’s material there would cut the Vancouver Landfill’s life from 40 years to 20 years, with higher costs to find an alternative 20 years from now.

Environmentalists see a disposal crisis as an opportunity to force more serious waste reduction and recycling. Ashcroft supporters say the community wants it and the project can hire Wastech Services’ existing workforce from nearby Cache Creek. Also it can tie into existing trucking backhaul arrangements and it’s owned by the GVRD.

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