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The business, and politics, of garbage

With the landfill closing next month there are short-term and long-term solutions to Whistler’s waste

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The motivating factor, which took Whistler, Squamish and consequently the rest of the SLRD from approving in October 1996 a SWMP to close the landfills and export garbage, to cancelling the export plan and expanding landfills in July 1997, was money – the landfill is a revenue producer. As well, the cost of exporting garbage was significantly higher than originally anticipated. Increased tipping fees were planned to cover this additional cost, but when the decision was made to keep the landfill open the higher tipping fees were maintained. They went into effect on Jan. 1, 1997.

But the additional money collected by the municipality didn’t go into general revenue. An Environmental Legacy Fund was established in 1999, administered by the Community Foundation of Whistler, and $300,000 in additional revenue produced annually by the landfill tipping fees hasbeen used to build up this fund for the last seven years. Interest generated from investing this fund has gone to a number of environmental projects over the years, including a community composting project by AWARE, black bear studies, trail upgrades and fish stewardship programs.

With the closure of the landfill this year the municipality’s contribution to the Environmental Legacy Fund has been reduced from $300,000 to $100,000. The municipality hopes to be able to continue to make a $100,000 contribution each year.

The landfill closure also means new costs. The cost to dispose of a tonne of solid waste in Whistler is currently $25.54. That is expected to increase to $69 when garbage begins to be exported. For Whistler residents, that means tipping fees will increase from the current $87 per tonne to $110 per tonne. As well, the annual residential parcel tax for solid waste will increase $29, from $145 to $174, although this could be offset by a $29 decrease in the sewer utility charge.

Pemberton and Area C are also facing higher tipping fees with the landfill closure, and they will be losing the annual equalization payments from Whistler that used to cover part of those fees.

The cost of physically closing, or capping, the Whistler landfill will be close to $4 million. In anticipation of this cost the municipality has been building a closure reserve fund. But with the closure sooner than originally anticipated, the municipality, earlier this year, had to transfer $1.5 million from the General Fund Operating Reserve to the Landfill Closure Reserve.

Building a transfer station is another capital cost facing Whistler; $200,000 is budgeted for a temporary transfer station and $85,000 to find a site for a permanent transfer station.