In a reversal, the Capital Regional District board decided Wednesday to partially lift a ban on spreading sewage biosolids on land, paving the way for 70 truckloads a year to be used at Hartland Landfill to fertilize trees or cover active areas of the dump.
Despite fears from area residents about the potential for air, water and soil pollution, directors opted to allow land application at the landfill on a temporary basis until a better solution is found.
The district prohibited spreading biosolids on land in 2011 over concerns about contaminating farmland and food production with chemicals, heavy metals and pharmaceuticals.
But with the region’s new $775-million sewage-treatment system slated to come on line in the middle of this year, the district is under pressure to figure out what to do with 7,000 tonnes of dried biosolids that will be generated annually.
Most of that granular material will be shipped to the Lower Mainland for use as fuel in cement kilns. But the district needs to find a use for about 700 tonnes that will be produced during the four to six weeks each year when the kilns shut down.
Initially, the plan was to simply dump that material in the landfill, but B.C. Environment Minister George Heyman has ordered the district to find a beneficial use for it. District staff insist that easing the ban and spreading the material at Hartland is the only short-term option available; otherwise, the district risks losing money earmarked for the sewage-treatment project.
A staff report says the biosolids could be used to fertilize trees and other vegetation covering inactive sections of the landfill.
As well, dried biosolids could be mixed with organic material and used as temporary cover on active sections of the landfill. Methane gas escaping from the landfill will pass through the biosolids and be converted to carbon dioxide, thereby reducing greenhouse-gas emissions, since carbon dioxide is less potent than methane, the report says.
Saanich Coun. Rebecca Mersereau supported the staff recommendation as a short-term solution, noting that it minimizes risk by limiting land application to the Hartland property.
“I see it as our only option,” she said. “Given the very direct response we received from the minister of environment, I think this is what we have to do in order to protect CRD’s broader interest in a project that’s been underway for almost a decade now.”
Colin Plant, who chairs the CRD board, took a similar stance.
“I am lending my support to this motion, not because I think land application is the greatest thing since sliced bread,” he said. “I don’t. But I am not willing, on behalf of the corporation, to risk any of the funding for this sewage project.”
But opponents say there are other options and that land application of biosolids — even in a limited way at Hartland Landfill — poses an unacceptable risk to the soil, water and human health.
Mike Hicks, director for the Juan de Fuca Electoral Area, said all of his constituents living in Willis Point adjacent to Hartland oppose the idea.
“And it’s not that they’re not educated about it,” he said. “They’re deeply educated and they’re deeply concerned about the water and air contamination.”
Hicks said that nobody has even consulted residents about the change. “They read about it in the newspaper that it was on this agenda,” he said. “That was the consultation to have biosolids spread beside their houses when they’re all on wells.”
Metchosin Mayor John Ranns voted against the motion as well. He argued that there are other methods of disposing of the biosolids and that the CRD should simply ask the environment minister for more time to explore them.
“If we just continue to say: ‘Oh, geez, we’re up against the time limit, so we’ve got to go and do something else,’ we’re just going further and further down this road and further and further ignoring the wishes of residents who do not want this to happen,” he said.
Former CRD director Philippe Lucas, who worked with residents to ban the land application of biosolids in 2011, said directors have underestimated the potential backlash.
“This is a horrible decision in light of the fact we haven’t consulted with local residents and local First Nations and that it’s inevitable that the land application of biosolids is going to lead to dispersal throughout the whole Saanich Peninsula,” he said.
“Frankly, to overturn this ban, I think, is to say you’re not with our local farmers. You’re not with our local First Nations. You’re not listening to our residents and basically you’re succumbing to pressure from the province that’s not beneficial to the local region’s environment or otherwise.”