After months of negotiations, Whistler is the proud new owner of a multi-million dollar composting machine.
It transforms solid organic wastes, like meat, fish, fruits, and wood and paper wastes into soil material within two weeks.
Owen Carney, owner of Carney’s Waste Systems, purchased the machine, known as the Wright In-Vessel Composting System, a few years ago to handle organic waste collected in the corridor. The facility was set up in the Squamish Business Park but operations were shut down last September, after Carney’s received repeated complaints about smell from the facility.
Now, the municipality has purchased the machine for $1.8 million, and will be moving it to the new waste transfer site at the entrance to the Callaghan Valley, where it will be operated by Carney’s.
Carney was interested in partnering with the RMOW because Whistler’s sewage treatment plant produces biosolids that can be used in the composting system.
Right now, the RMOW is “digesting” these biosolids by storing them in sealed tanks, allowing the matter to decompose over several days. It is then mixed with woodchips and used in the landfill reclamation process.
But studies have shown that using biosolids to assist in composting is more environmentally sustainable than using the current digesting process.
Through trial and error, Carney’s has discovered that a mixture of one-third organics, one-third biosolids and one-third wood chips results in a good compost.
Carney confirmed Monday that he had finalized a deal with the RMOW to purchase the machine.
Diana Waltmann, information officer for RMOW, said the overall capital costs for the purchase of the machine and the construction of the new facility is estimated at $6 million. Operating costs are not included in this estimate, but Waltmann said they will be included in the next annual budget.
Waltmann said the facility should be up and running by early 2008, processing commercial organic waste.
Waltmann cited a report that says the system is more “financially attractive” if it uses compost from Whistler’s solid waste stream, but said she wasn’t sure if they planned to offer organic composting to area residents.
“So it looks like we’re looking at that, but I can’t say for certain if or when we would open it to residential,” said Waltmann.
As of Tuesday, Squamish Mayor Ian Sutherland wasn’t aware the deal had been finalized, but said he was happy to hear plans for the composting facility were moving ahead.
“We knew that was the intent and we supported that. The facility is a very positive thing for the entire corridor.”
Sutherland said the operation will be a “positive step” for the environment throughout the corridor and points out that the new site is better than the one in Squamish.
“Now we just have to move forward and work with Whistler and all the other partners in the corridor to make sure it is a success,” said Sutherland.
The Squamish-Lillooet Regional District had taken steps to purchase the facility from Carney’s prior to the RMOW. In fact, the RMOWs sudden expression of interest in the composting system at the end of February surprised and angered some members of the SLRD, who felt they were left out of the loop.
Sutherland explained the initial hostility was not about Whistler wanting to purchase the machine, but the fact they hadn’t communicated their plan and saved the SLRD the time and energy of developing their own plan.
“None of us were aware that Whistler was talking to Carney’s about it. We were all a bit upset at the time that Whistler had moved forward without sharing the news with any of us.”
But ultimately, Sutherland said it doesn’t matter who owns the facility, because the whole community will benefit.
“At the end of the day, for us it’s the same thing, and Whistler was in a position to move forward and get it done,” said Sutherland.
Sutherland said the success of the composting facility depends on ensuring there is plenty of organic material available.
“We’ll make sure that we direct as much as possible — all our organics — to that facility, because with something like that, you need a certain volume to make it economically viable,” said Sutherland.
“So our job, along with Pemberton and the rest of the SLRD and everybody else who uses it, is to make sure we commit enough volume to make it a feasible project.”
Sutherland said he eventually hopes to see composting brought to individual homes throughout the corridor.
“Carney’s is working mainly with the restaurants and the industrial users,” said Sutherland.
“The next logical step… is to take it down to the residential level and really capture as many organics as possible, put them in that facility and keep them out of the landfill.”