When Western Regional Waste Management announced that its new transfer site near Cape Ray would begin operations as scheduled last Monday, Sept. 17, it caught even some members of the Port aux Basques Town Council off guard.
Meanwhile area residents were left scrambling for sufficient numbers of clear and blue recyclable bags and swamped the town office with phone calls seeking information.
The opening of the transfer station, which will serve communities along the southwest coast from South Branch to La Poile, was believed by much of the region’s residents and even municipal officials to have been unofficially delayed due to a number of outstanding issues.
But on Wednesday, Sept. 5 the Town of Channel-Port aux Basques was informed its current dump site was to be officially closed as scheduled to correspond with the opening of the new transfer site. The garbage would then be transported to either St. George’s or Wild Cove to be buried, again with an additional expense to southwest coast residents.
Although the Cape Ray transfer station was indeed fully operational on Sept. 17, none of this happened. Instead, Port aux Basques continued its curbside collection of waste and transported it all to the usual town dump.
On Tuesday evening, Sept. 18 during a regular meeting of council, Councillor Melvin Keeping, who sits on the Western Regional Waste Management Board, updated council as to a number of outstanding issues causing the delay.
First and foremost is the unresolved matter of curbside collection.
An initial failed tender for curbside collection forced Port aux Basques, which had coordinated the tender on behalf of the region, to issue a second tender. At a meeting of the Southwest Coast Waste Management Committee (SWCWMC) on Wednesday, Sept. 12, the two tendered bids were outright rejected as being too high.
“All present voted to reject the tenders that night,” reported Keeping, who clarified that only representatives from the local service district of Margaree-Fox Roost were unable to attend due to a scheduling conflict. “Going with the tender price would have over doubled this, so it would have been very expensive.”
The proposed tendered costs, combined with a tipping fee of $164 per ton, would see per household collection fees rise from a current rate of $120 to nearer the $300 mark, which all member communities felt was beyond what residents could afford.
The introduction of tipping fees is new to area residents. In the past, residents were able to drop off garbage at the Port aux Basques dump without incurring any fees. This new fee of $164 per ton was calculated by the Southwest Coast Volunteer Committee (SWCVC) at an average of $67.50 per household per year, however, this was only for curbside collection. Any resident, along with private or commercial users, would still be required to pay an individual tipping fee when dropping most things at the new transfer station.
“In anticipation that this would happen, myself, the town manager (Leon MacIsaac) and the town clerk (Julia Ingram) punched some numbers prior to this meeting to determine what it would cost if the town continued the curbside collection once the transfer station opened. Our cost is between $140 to $150 per household and this also includes the tipping fees,” reported Keeping. “We’re rejigging these numbers to make sure everything is correct.”
The issue Port aux Basques is facing when it comes to continuing curbside collection for the region is the fact that the town’s three collection trucks are aging and have significant problems. In fact, the town had only agreed to curbside collection until the new tender was awarded and the dump site was closed, when its obligation would end.
“They’re split trucks, but one is in half-decent condition. The other one is giving us some problems,” said Keeping. “They cannot adequately provide the service.”
In order to agree to continue the region’s curbside collection, Port aux Basques tabled several conditions.
Port aux Basques will apply to the provincial government to fully fund or cost share two new split trucks, one to be provided early in 2019 and the second early in 2020.
The town also requested an extension to continue operating its current landfill until the town was brought up to speed on curbside collection using the current equipment.
The town also requested administration of the program since it would be using its staff and resources.
If no extension was to be granted, the town requested the WRWM board defer the tipping fees in the interim so that Port aux Basques could comply with the new recycling program. However, the town’s proposal to have the fees deferred was subsequently rejected by the WRWM board during its last board meeting.
“I’m disappointed because I felt that for the short period we were looking at, at least the provincial strategy of waste management, which is the overall goal here, would have continued,” said Keeping. “As of today, it was decided that we would continue using our current site and garbage would be dumped in the landfill there.”
Keeping noted that even if Port aux Basques had delivered the waste to the transfer station and paid the fees, the non-recyclable garbage would still have been shipped to Bay St. George and landfilled there anyway.
An ongoing dispute in central, where the western region is to ship its non-recyclable garbage for burial in a lined landfill, remains unresolved. This in turn put western’s plan to transport garbage to central on hiatus. Instead it was decided that all garbage collected along the west coast will currently stay within the region to be disposed of at the unlined landfills at St. George’s or Wild Cove.
Port aux Basques doesn’t see the need to ship the southwest coast garbage to an out of area unlined landfill instead of just using its own.
“Why would we pay the tipping fees when we can dump the garbage here until we get things straightened out and get up and running?” asked Keeping rhetorically. “Until we get someone to come out and put locks on the gate or the trucks ordered off, we will continue to do what we’ve done.”
Keeping also sits on the waste management board, and noted that in all fairness the board must pay the contractors for the transfer station regardless of whether or not the town delivers there. In fact, the manager of the transfer station came to the Port aux Basques dump to see why no trucks were delivering there instead.
“Those contracts are in place,” noted Keeping.
While council does understand the board’s position, they’re unwilling to pay the extra fees in the meantime.
“I think we’ve got to take a stand on this for now,” said Deputy Mayor Todd Strickland.
On Wednesday, Sept. 19 Port aux Basques Mayor John Spencer told The Gulf News that the recycling program is still underway and that this does not mean people should stop sorting their garbage.
“People need to do the recycling, because I mean the enthusiasm and energy towards it was tremendous, so we want to continue to do that,” said Spencer. “That will eventually cut down on our tipping fees, which will save money for everybody.”
Having said that, Spencer admits that until things are sorted out, he’s still separating his recyclables in compliance with the program but using black bags instead of clear ones.
“For my garbage only though,” he said.
There are still other things to be sorted as well, such as how the charge per household will be applied for residents who summer in the valley or who have moved away to work but still have a property here.
“I’m not sure,” admits Spencer.
Those details have to be finalized by the SWCVC.
Spencer also says there is no substance to the rumours that homeowners will no longer be able to use their wooden garbage boxes. There are other minor questions to be resolved as well, and they are among the details still being worked out.
“We had asked for a concession to allow people to actually visit and see what the scoop is up there and no tipping fees for a period of time to allow everybody to get familiar with what’s going to happen, but West Coast Management said no,” said Spencer. “I went on their website and I saw they had a series of a month’s free tipping on Saturday for the month of May, and that was part of their clean-up week in St. George’s area, but still we weren’t asking for that. We were just asking for a chance to get people familiar with the transfer site.”
Spencer also finds it interesting that the Cape Ray transfer site went into operation without any kind of official ceremony or media blitz, unlike the Wild Cove transfer site opening, to which he was invited.
“It was just we’re open for business Monday,” he said. “You’re closed Monday.”
By Thursday morning, Sept. 20 Spencer reached out to The Gulf News once again via email.
“The Chair of Western Board and CEO plan to be in town this evening for a training session for all municipal/LSD office staff on the dos and don'ts of waste collection,” wrote Spencer. “Also, (need to confirm) the province has granted an extension to the life of our dump until October 19th.”
There are other matters in the works as well, but the mayor would not go into detail for confidentiality reasons.
Representatives from the WRWM board in Corner Brook did not respond to inquiries from The Gulf News prior to publication deadline.