Mayor Richard Atwell did not mince words in his critique of the decision to cancel plans for a facility that would have streamlined various waste streams under the heading of integrated resource management (IRM).
“We invested years of our own time and our staff’s time to look at a better way of doing these things,” he said. “We were on the verge of doing it, and it is all blowing up today, and I am embarrassed to sit here and I can’t believe it is really happening this way. It is really quite shocking.”
Atwell made these comments Wednesday last week as the board of the Capital Regional District (CRD) voted to cancel the current procurement process for the facility, following a lengthy debate.
Specifically, Atwell argued that the decision denies the CRD the possibility to investigate technologies like the sludge-processing machine operating in Sedro Wooley, Wash. Developed for the Gates Foundation, the facility can handle different waste streams at different volumes, producing water and energy along the way, said Atwell.
Speaking Sunday, Atwell reiterated his critique. He also noted that the CRD must now find ways to dispose Class A biosolids, be it by shipping them elsewhere, or burning them.
The cancellation divided the Saanich delegation at the regional body, and sparked criticism from a local watch-group concerned about government efficiency.
“Vic Derman would have been bitterly disappointed in this betrayal by his fellow [councillors],” said James Anderson, a director with Amalgamation Yes, in a letter to the Saanich News.
Saanich Coun. Judy Brownoff defended the decision, and rejected charges she and others had insulted the legacy of late Saanich councillor Vic Derman, a vocal proponent of IRM.
Derman had argued that such a facility would help reduce the cost of the new regional sewage plant under construction by streamlining various waste streams with the help of technologies such as anaerobic digestion, gasification, or both.
While not part of the regional sewage plant, the facility would have processed some of the biosolids from the sewage plant, along with other types of waste such as solid municipal waste, organic waste and kitchen scraps.
But key decision makers including Victoria Mayor Lisa Helps and Brownoff, who chairs the CRD’s environmental services committee, questioned IRM after a workshop last month had raised several red flags.
Central to the decision of the CRD was a presentation from the consortium building the Hartland treatment facility part of the regional sewage project. Its “under-budget proposal” promised to produce more marketable dry biosolids free of charge.
Other identified concerns include the control – or lack, thereof – about source material. Helps said the district controls sewage sludge, kitchen scraps, but only 15 per cent of municipal solid waste. If the region is serious about reducing waste to net zero, then it does not make sense to build a facility that depends on waste to operate, she said.
A majority of CRD board members eventually agreed with them by cancelling the previous procurement process for an IRM facility, which Derman had previously estimated to cost $100 million.
Derman would have recognized the financial, environmental and technological risks of IRM, said Brownoff. “I believe that my former colleague [Derman] would have agreed with it,” she said of the cancellation.
Couns. Dean Murdock and Susan Brice joined Brownoff in favouring cancellation, while Atwell and Coun. Plant voted against it.
Brownoff said unanimous agreement is rare in any organization, and stressed that IRM itself is not dead – merely the current procurement process. As technology evolves, IRM may well be back on the table, said Brownoff.
“It is disingenuous to say that we are not looking,” she said.
While Brownoff confirmed these options among others, she said the process of finding a suitable use for these dried biosolids has just started. Putting together a request for proposal for the “beneficial reuse” of this dried material will take time, and the CRD will have a chance to review available options.