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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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From money to politics

A slightly cheaper, and closer, alternative to the Rabanco landfill was preferred by Whistler, but earlier this year the provincial government shot that down.

Cache Creek, which landfills garbage from a number of B.C. communities, including the Greater Vancouver Regional District, was originally chosen over Rabanco. Although the GVRD-owned Cache Creek landfill is expected to close in 2008, the GVRD purchased the nearby Ashcroft Ranch several years ago with the expectation that part of it could become a regional landfill after Cache Creek closes. The Ashcroft site had apparently met all the environmental requirements when in June the Minister of Sustainable Resources, George Abbott, surprised everyone with the announcement that more assessments must be done. That meant that for the time being at least, there is no alternative after Cache Creek closes in 2008. Therefore applications by Whistler and the Cowichan Valley to send their waste, and Powell River’s request to renew its agreement, were all put on hold.

Abbott’s announcement confused a lot of people. Jon Kingsbury, mayor of Coquitlam and chair of the GVRD’s waste management committee, told The Province newspaper: "We had thought we’d exhausted all possibilities of options and had picked the very one (Ashcroft) that was laid out according to the province’s terms of reference we were dealing under."

The GVRD, which sends about 450,000 tonnes of waste to the Cache Creek site each year, is even more anxious than Whistler to find a long-term solution to its garbage problems. But it’s not just an environmental issue. The suspicion is that First Nations land claims may have prompted Abbott’s June announcement. That idea is supported by a July 12 opinion piece in the Vancouver Sun by Robert Pasco of the Nlaka’pamux Nation that advocated thermal gasification of garbage, rather than dumping in Nlaka’pamux traditional lands. "Figuratively and now literally, indigenous communities are being dumped on," Pasco wrote.

"We let it happen in the past. We will not let it happen again."

If there was any doubt that garbage is a political issue it was put to rest last month with two more opinion pieces in The Sun . On Sept. 20 Wolf Nickel, president and general manager of Highland Valley Copper, which operates the open pit mine near Logan Lake, suggested the mine site could become the regional landfill. The mine is expected to close sometime between 2008 and 2013. Nickel cited the Gibraltar Mines near Williams Lake as a successful precedent.

Nickel’s piece was followed a week later by one from Cache Creek Mayor John Ranta, who wrote that the Highland Valley landfill "is a textbook case of predatory economic development, and it has the potential to wipe two rural communities right off the map." Ranta also wrote that the motivation for Teck Cominco, operators of the mine, to open the site to garbage is to save millions of dollars in mine remediation costs.