- Gayle Baker
Trash, Effluent, and Biosolids. . . Lots to Learn About this Waste-Filled Topic
Eleven welcomed CRD Electoral Director, Gary Holman, to this ASK Salt Spring gathering. After our Territorial Acknowledgement, Gary begin by telling us about three recent decisions by the CRD Board that have implications for Salt Spring.
1) Housing: Some of you may recall that there was a late proposal at the CRD Board to further increase the 2023 requisition by $85 million for regional affordable housing initiatives. The current CRD Regional Housing budget of $40 million - increased to $120 million through leveraged partnerships with BC Housing and CMHC - has all been committed. (This funding created 1,700-1,800 new units, about 350 of which are rented at current shelter - social assistance - rates. Croftonbrook received over $3 million from this fund.)
While this late proposal was not approved, a compromise was reached - the CRD will be seeking approval to borrow $85 million for affordable housing. This funding would be used over a number of years to leverage as collaborative opportunities develop. This permission to borrow will be sought through consent by municipal councils in the CRD and an Alternate Approval process in electoral areas: (https://www2.gov.bc.ca/gov/content/governments/local-governments/governance-powers/consent-approval-electors/approval-of-the-electors/alternative-approval-process). As you may know, with an Alternate Approval (counter petition) process, if 10% or more sign a petition opposing this borrowing, it will be defeated in that particular electoral area. However, for regional initiatives, over one third of local governments (i.e., at least six) have to oppose to defeat the borrowing proposal.
Gary supports the proposal, and as with the previous CRD borrowing for its regional housing program, he also is hopeful that this counter petition on SSI will fail.
When Gary was asked whether Salt Spring would benefit from this funding, he replied that this will depend upon the strength of the proposals submitted to CRD Regional Housing. With a number of interesting proposals in varying stages of readiness, Gary is hopeful that Salt Spring will be very competitive for this funding.
High on his list is the remainder of the Drake Road five-acre property after the 28-unit supportive housing has been completed. Donated by School District 64 some years ago for worker/family housing, it has recently been leased to BC Housing for 60 years. Not required to get local zoning approval due to the provincial power to exert paramountcy, Gary hopes that BC Housing will move forward quickly to apply for these funds to build between 50-80 additional densities on this property, depending on the adequacy of additional groundwater at this site.
2) Dragonfly Commons: The CRD Board also agreed in principle at its last meeting to move forward with the proposal for CRD to own and operate the water utility for Dragonfly Commons (https://dragonflycommons.com/. As a purchased worker housing option, provincial rules require establishment of a water utility, the daunting liabilities of which stalled Dragonfly Commons for some years. The CRD Board directed staff to finalize the necessary arrangements to construct and operate this water system, opening up the path for Dragonfly Commons to move forward.
Why should CRD want to own and maintain this system? First and foremost because it facilitates much needed affordable housing. One of CRD's conditions for this water utility agreement will be a housing agreement - acceptable to the Trust - that ensures the future affordability of Dragonfly Commons homes. (Dragonfly Common’s application to the Trust has received a first reading).
Also, unlike other five local water districts under CRD, each with aging infrastructure (particularly old asbestos-cement distribution systems), Dragonfly Commons’ system will be new and built to CRD specifications. Dragonfly Commons home owners will pay CRD an annual fee for their water.
Despite some challenges still to be addressed, this good water news has fueled Dragonfly Commons Directors to begin making decisions about the pre-engineered homes that will comprise this 30 home Drake Road village.
A bit later in our conversation, we briefly returned to our oft-discussed housing concerns when a participant asked whether there were too many addressing our housing crisis with no one central focus. Gary reminded us of the great work being done by Community Services, Lookout Society (https://lookoutsociety.ca/), and IWAV (https://iwav.org/), each of which is also examining further opportunities. While many expected the Housing Council (http://saltspringhousing.ca/) to expand its role beyond information sharing, the members of this registered society may be too busy on their own initiatives housing to take on more responsibilities.
Establishment of a new housing entity focused specifically on worker housing was suggested as the best step forward to address a major gap. Gary reminded us that there is already a regional housing entity (Capital Region Housing Corporation - CHRC - which owns the Drake Rd property) and indicated that a new housing entity (or an existing entity such as the Chamber) supported by a CRD requisition would require voter approval.
If this route were taken, this new housing entity could take on a number of responsibilities ranging from employee/homeowner matchmaking to acquiring land and building projects. Gary believes that specific objectives of a housing entity and its relationship with the CRHC and existing regional programs need to be defined before moving forward with such a proposal.
Depending on the objectives of a new worker housing entity, existing funding from Salt Spring’s economic development service or the Southern Gulf Islands Tourism Partnership could also be available to support such an initiative. Gary believes that this conversation will be an early agenda item once the Local Community Commission begins meeting June 19.
3) Waste: Gary also told us about a third CRD Board decision concerning Hartland Landfill facility (https://www.crd.bc.ca/service/waste-recycling/hartland-landfill-facility). As you may know, our Recycling Centre (operated by Community Services and funded by Recycling BC and tipping fees from Hartland) markets our recyclables at no property tax cost. The CRD Board has committed to reduce the thousands of tonnes of garbage brought to Hartland by one-third in order to extend the life of the landfill. As a step toward this, tipping fees will be increased; construction waste; such carpets, wood, and asphalt shingles will no longer be accepted at Hartland; and enforcement of these rules will be enhanced. Customers and haulers who do not separate these banned material from their load will be fined.
This launched an interesting conversation about our local disposal of construction waste. A participant told us that these products are regularly burned at construction sites - largely because there is no system to recycle usable construction leftovers, like wood products. This participant saw possibilities for Blackburn Dump to more strategically fill this role with more of the construction leftovers sold and recycled there.
While burning is the easy solution for many of our busy builders, this participant asked if incentives could be designed to encourage them to recycle rather than burning. What about reduced costs for building permits for these recyclers? While a number of steps would be needed to accomplish something like this, discussions about better recycling solutions for Salt Spring seem to be well overdue.
Later in the discussion, a participant expressed frustration about the clearly-defined health hazards of burning, telling us that those toxins remain in all of our lungs indefinitely. Telling Gary that he believed CRD was responsible for creating a bylaw to declare burning illegal for health reasons, Gary responded that he thought that this was in the Fire Department’s area of responsibility.
While there appears to be a great deal of research about the harmful effects of poor air quality (https://beyond.ubc.ca/what-is-air-quality-and-what-affects-it-in-bc), local governmental bans of actions contributing to this health hazard can be difficult. Why not encourage CRD and our local Fire Department to provide easy, free (or inexpensive) alternatives like composting, biochar, and chipping? Gary agreed that we need to develop better alternatives to burning and noted that the CRD funding for FireSmart activities, (including chipping) and the new composting facility at the Burgoyne community garden were positive steps forward.
Gary did note that, while the composter at Burgoyne Community Garden will be receiving green waste from larger outlets like Country Grocer as well as abattoir waste, it will have to expand significantly in order to play a more significant role in reducing and beneficially reusing our solid waste.
A participant countered that hot, well-built fires are far better than smoking ones burning wet items. He suggested better education for those who do burn.
Despite this progress, the participant requesting a health-related burn ban reminded us that the Fire Department considered safety hazards and that no-one is watching out for the threat of fires to our health. Gary promised to clarify responsibilities and continue working on this issue.
We then learned a bit of the troubled history about our Burgoyne Bay waste disposal facility (https://www.wbrook.ca/projects/view/200-burgoyne-bay-septage-receiving-facility). The septage facility is located on what was once a 50-acre Texada Development Co. property. As part of The Land Conservancy of BC’s work in the early 2000s to save lands being logged by the Texada and the support from the Paul Allen Family Foundation (https://pgafamilyfoundation.org/), 32 acres were acquired by BC Parks and became part of the Burgoyne Bay Park Reserve. Gary worked with the CRD to acquire the 18 acre portion of the parcel on which the now decommissioned septage/sludge pits were located.
In 2008, voters approved borrowing $2.2 million to build a facility to compost our liquid waste and apply the compost to non-agricultural lands. These plans received a major setback when the CRD Board, lobbied tenaciously by groups deeply concerned about trace amounts of unhealthy elements in treated human waste, passed a bylaw forbidding the application of treated or composted biosolids anywhere in the Capital Regional District.
While the province allows, and other regional districts use treated and composted liquid waste, the CRD Board continues to prohibit any land application. The result of this prohibition, as well as failed attempts at alternative treatment and disposal methods, means that today we are spending about $600,000 per year, a cost that is steadily rising, to truck our effluent to waste treatment and composting facilities on Vancouver Island, where it is used beneficially outside the Capital Region.
There is hope that an in-progress Options Study will result in long-awaited solutions for this very expensive saga. A first step may be to dewater the effluent, so that we are only trucking the far less voluminous residual solids off-island, using simple porous membranes known as Terra-Tubes.
Gary is confident that the soon-to-be-elected Local Commissioners will focus their attention on this in-progress Options Study. Gary got a strong message not to forget our waste-wise locals, Peter Lake and Mary Richardson, who spent frustrating years researching and identifying solutions. Gary was asked to make sure they can communicate with the LCC regarding the options report, and he agreed that this would be important.
Will CRD relook at its prohibition of use of biosolids? Gary believes CRD should revisit the ban and that the door to that conversation has opened slightly due to the arrival of Victoria’s McLoughlin Point Waste Water Treatment Plant (https://www.crd.bc.ca/project/capital-projects/mcloughlin-point-wastewater-treatment-plant), which Gary reminded us was constructed about 30 years after SSI had already established its Ganges treatment plant. The residuals from Mcloughlin are then piped to Hartland for drying. Consistent with the provincial requirement for the beneficial use of this waste, it was then to be trucked to Lafarge Cement Plant (https://www.lafarge.ca/en) to be burned for energy instead of coal.
However, when the Lafarge plant was shut down for much longer than anticipated, CRD began applying the treated, dried residuals at Hartland landfill. When the province then reminded CRD that beneficial use of biosolids is required, the CRD Board, after considerable debate, agreed to truck dried biosolids to a former quarry site in the Nanaimo area (coincidentally owned by Lafarge) where it is mixed with sand and wood chips to rehabilitate the site. Nevertheless, until the CRD Board changes its policy regarding land application of treated biosolids, dewatering may represent the best approach to reduce our liquid waste disposal costs.
The conversation shifted to water when a participant asked Gary what he expected the Local Community Commission would do to address the North Salt Spring Waterworks District’s (NSSWD) water hook-up moratorium. Gary reminded us that NSSWD Trustees will have to thoroughly digest a plethora of scientific information about this moratorium and make the best decision for its ratepayers and our community.
Gary recently met with the NSSWD Trustees, encouraging them to participate in an inter-agency working group to find ways to free up water for suites and cottages during this moratorium. He was hopeful that he and the other Local Commissioners can take an active role in inter-agency working group conversations focused upon options that may free up water, possibly including:
Transferring unused license volumes from Highlands/Fernwood Water District,
Working with NSSWD ratepayers who have functioning wells to transfer their system connection to other properties,
Implementing a more progressive water consumption rate structure that would result in higher costs per volume unit of water for large water users, and
Funding a water conservation program such as water-saving toilets, use of grey water/rainwater to flush toilets, and non-potable water storage.
A participant suggested publishing names of the largest water users. Most seemed to agree that rewards for those using the least water may be a better option:).
Already 1:00, we thanked Gary for this rich conversation, appreciative of his time with us each month, the important information he always offers, his willingness to listen and learn, and his sense of humor despite the serious challenges he faces everyday. (Thanks, Gary!)
Please join us this Friday, May19, 11-1, in the SIMS Lobby (former Middle School) to welcome Local Community. Commission candidates, facilitated by former Liquid Waste Commission Chair, Mary Richardson.
With all the attention this upcoming Local Community Commission election is getting, surely you have many questions for candidates. Please join us for an informal, respectful conversation with them.
Hope to see you this Friday, May 19, to welcome LCC Candidates!
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