Compost-facility battle heats up after CRD suspends licence over foul odour

The Capital Regional District faced both praise and criticism Wednesday for suspending the licence of a Central Saanich composting facility due to odour complaints.

The lawyer for Foundation Organics Ltd. called the suspension “counterproductive” and warned that taxpayers could be on the hook for financial harm to the company.

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“If it turns out the CRD was not justified in doing this, it’s going to cost the taxpayers again a whack of money,” said Victoria lawyer John Alexander.

“These are huge business losses.”

But Central Saanich residents, who have complained about strong smells emanating from the property, cheered the decision.

“I’m thrilled,” said Neil Powell. “It’s just a shame that we’re almost near the end of the summer and we’ve had to put up with the stench.”

Powell lives about five kilometres from the facility and has been unable to venture outside because the smell is so strong.

“It’s putrid,” he said.

The CRD suspended the company’s licence Tuesday after receiving repeated complaints from neighbours of the facility, which is located on the Stanhope Dairy Farm at 6341 Old East Rd.

The facility can process food waste already on site, but must stop accepting any new waste until it fixes the odour problem.

After a hearing on the issue last week, the company was found to be in violation of its recycler licence as well as a district bylaw that regulates composting facilities.

“The company has not been following the operating plan approved as part of their licence,” said Russ Smith, senior environmental resource manager.

He said the haulers who transport food waste to the facility will have to make other arrangements. “There are several additional processing facilities on the Island in the Cowichan Valley [and] Nanaimo Regional Districts.”

Central Saanich Mayor Alastair Bryson, who also chairs the CRD board, welcomed the suspension.

“I have received a deluge of complaints from neighbours of the compost facility, particularly over the last couple of months,” he said in an email.

“While most residents are supportive of the CRD’s plan to divert organic material from the landfill by January 2015, they want to see the material processed appropriately, without neighbours having to endure significant impacts from odour and dust.”

But Alexander said Foundation Organics had been working hard to deal with the odour complaints and was caught off guard by the suspension. He criticized CRD officials for being overly bureaucratic and “doing something because they can, not because it’s necessary or helpful.”

Alexander said even the company’s attempts to improve the situation have been viewed as a violation of its licence. “So that’s very counterproductive,” he said.

The company plans to push for an immediate review of the decision by a senior CRD official next week and, failing that, may take the matter to court.

In the meantime, Alexander said, the company is alerting its customers that they will need to find another place to take their waste.

“It probably means a huge number of trucks running over the Malahat,” he said. “The next major facility is one in Cobble Hill. How environmentally responsible is that? How happy is the [Cowichan Valley Regional District] to have another waste stream foisted on them?”

Alexander also argued that the odour issues stem from agricultural practices on the farm. “It has nothing to do with the composting facility.”

He said the dairy farm has been spreading the finished compost on its grasslands, which has resulted in 40 per cent higher yields.

“That’s where my clients say the majority of the odours come from,” he said. “That’s a farming practice, it’s protected by the Right to Farm Act.” He also noted that it’s an accepted practice on land in the Agricultural Land Reserve.

“I think it’s unfortunate that the CRD has come up with a counterproductive move,” he said. “It would have been much better to work with the farm to implement changes if they wanted that.”

lkines@timescolonist.com

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