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Whistler looks to U.S. to dump waste

Province halts Ashcroft landfill approval, forcing Whistler to look elsewhere for a landfill

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Whistler is now looking south of the border for a place to dump its garbage. The resort was planning on sending its refuse to Cache Creek after the Whistler landfill closes this summer.

But last week the provincial government stymied those plans after deciding further assessment needed to be done before more waste was sent to the Interior.

While the decision caught Whistler a little off-guard the resort does not anticipate any problems in getting rid of its refuse.

"I’m surprised, and I’m not," said Mayor Hugh O’Reilly.

"That’s why you have backup plans."

For Whistler, Plan-B means talking to the owners of the Rabanco landfill in Washington State, the municipality’s second choice during its original investigation.

Whistler was well aware that the Cache Creek landfill was set to close in 2008. But until now that didn’t pose a problem as the Greater Vancouver Regional District was working to open the Ashcroft landfill to take over from Cache Creek.

However, on Wednesday June 8, the province suspended the environmental assessment process for the Ashcroft landfill until the GVRD does more work on amendments to its solid waste management plan.

"When we went into the process of pursuing the Cache Creek site, we knew that there were a lot of approvals necessary and we recognized that there was a chance that it wouldn’t be approved because the Ashcroft landfill was still not approved," said Brian Barnett, general manager engineering and public works.

"So we’ve, over the course of analyzing our options, had many discussions with the owners and operators of the Rabanco landfill in Washington State and so we’ll be having further discussions with Rabanco now."

Minister of Sustainable Resource Management George Abbott said it was a difficult decision, but there were still some outstanding issues, which needed to be addressed. Chief amongst them was legal concerns about whether the GVRD did enough to investigate alternative landfill sites to Ashcroft.

"This was a difficult and complex decision and one that we thought about a great deal," said Abbott.

Whistler was forced to close its landfill this year, earlier than planned, because the community chose the Lower Cheakamus as the location for the 2010 Olympics athletes’ village. That village will ultimately turn into a neighbourhood community.

As it looked to move its waste elsewhere, the municipality narrowed down its decision to two options, namely Cache Creek 200 kilometres away via Duffy Lake Road or Rabanco, more than 900 km south.

Though Rabanco is further away, the greenhouse gas emissions are almost identical to Cache Creek because the waste would be trucked to Surrey, then transferred by rail down to Rabanco.

The difference between the two landfills, added Barnett, is minimal.

Going to Rabanco now even at this late stage will not put Whistler at a disadvantage.

The Whistler landfill can still close by the end of the summer and it will not compromise construction on the athletes’ village.

"Everything is going according to plan," said Barnett. "So there’s very little impact to Whistler with this Ashcroft announcement… There’s no impact to the timing for the landfill closure. There’s no impact for the construction of the athletes village. And… the cost impact is pretty minimal."

Rabanco is slightly more expensive than Cache Creek at an extra $150,000 per year in the $4 million annual budget. That cost is based on an exchange rate of 80 per cent. The cost will fluctuate with the Canadian/U.S. exchange rate.

Unlike the Cache Creek option, which required five agency approvals, Whistler needs just two agency approvals to go south of the border; one from the Squamish-Lillooet Regional District, and the other from the Ministry of Water, Land & Air Protection.

Another bonus, said Barnett, is that if Whistler signs a five-year contract with Rabanco, they will have one-month cancellation clause in the contract. Cache Creek needed a year’s cancellation notice.

That’s important for Whistler because the resort is still exploring options at the Squamish landfill.

That landfill is currently not up to provincial environmental standards and will need hundreds of thousands of dollars in improvements to bring it up to code. The upgrade would expand the size of the Squamish landfill and its lifespan.

But becoming a regional landfill will only be financially viable if Whistler transfers its waste there, said Squamish Mayor Ian Sutherland.

He said they would need a clear indication from Whistler and the SLRD and the people of Squamish that they want a regional landfill in their town.

"What we don’t want to do is spend a lot money and then find out there’s no interest," said Sutherland.

Consultants are in the process of putting together some numbers on the Squamish landfill.

In the meantime, the resort is working on an assessment of a permanent site from which Whistler’s waste would be readied for transport. Municipal staff is not ruling out any sites and is looking from Wedge to the Brandywine Falls area.

"Our preference is to have it next to the rail just so that transportation by rail is always a possible option for us," said Barnett.

He could not say at this time how much the transfer station will cost.

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