By Trevor Busch
It appears that patience isn’t regarded as a virtue by some members of town council when it comes to consideration of the Town of Taber’s solid waste disposal initiative.
At their Jan. 26 meeting, town council voted 4-3 to accept the intention behind a notice of motion proposed by Coun. Joe Strojwas, and agreed to add a discussion of possible changes to the town’s current municipal solid waste system to the Feb. 9 meeting agenda, while requesting administration provide alternatives for consideration.
Mayor Henk De Vlieger and Coun.(s) Jack Brewin, Joe Strojwas, and Laura Ross-Giroux voted in favour of the motion.
Coun.(s) Randy Sparks, Andrew Prokop, and Rick Popadynetz were opposed.
At their final regular meeting in December 2014, council had voted 4-3 to defeat a motion to continue with the municipal solid waste initiative as proposed, with a new cart system to comprise of curbside or laneway pickup of compost, recycle and garbage containers in the residential portions of Taber.
Ross-Giroux, Strojwas and De Vlieger voted in favour of the motion, while a four-man majority consisting of Sparks, Prokop, Brewin, and Popadynetz voted in opposition, defeating the motion.
According to town council’s own policy (Bylaw 3-2007), further debate surrounding the controversial three cart roll-out system which had been proposed for implementation should have ceased for at least six months when the split council vote defeated a motion to approve on Dec. 15, 2014.
“I still believe that Bylaw 3-2007 needs to be followed,” said Coun. Randy Sparks, prior to the vote. “I don’t really see the reason — unless there’s a drastic change in the information that can be brought to us — that his needs to be changed. Council needs to be given the opportunity to research other alternatives. I’ve had many phone calls — I’ve had individuals talk to me about incineration and all kinds of different options regarding this. So I’m not in favour of opening up this dialogue at this point.”
Article VI.5 of Bylaw 3-2007 prohibits discussion of an issue that has already been voted on by council being added to a meeting agenda for a six month period following the vote.
An exception can only be made when a notice of motion to revisit the matter is approved by a majority of council.
“I find it slightly interesting that all of the sudden, there’s supposedly some more alternatives to solid waste collection in Taber that weren’t available on Dec. 15,” said Sparks. “That was a very short time ago. All of the sudden we have a councillor that wants to bring this back for further discussion, and there’s more information. Why wasn’t this information available five weeks ago, when we made the decision on this? It should have been there.”
Council initiated discussion of various methods to improve the Town of Taber’s municipal solid waste system several years ago.
A study undertaken in 2012 suggested the preferred option was to move away from the current bin system to a variation of the roll-out cart system used by a significant percentage of communities in North America. At the time, this initiative had originally stalled in the face of unresolved questions from town council and significant public opposition.
“I personally don’t see why we can’t bring it back to the table,” said De Vlieger. “You also have to realize that we have a budget, and that we also have to deal with a garbage truck that is spent. We also have to realize if we postpone it for six months, nothing will happen until the year following, and we’d have to make investments in the existing bin system that would have to be replaced. I think we have to be serious about this, and I think we have to be responsible with our tax dollars. It’s not like we’re inventing something new — personally, I would like to see this discussed sooner than later, so that we don’t start making the wrong investments.”
In 2014, administration again moved the roll-out cart issue forward. At the same time, a private company, Bio-Can, approached the Town of Taber about the possibility of establishing a compost facility at the town’s waste transfer site, offering to process the town’s compostable material as part of the lease agreement.
“The onus is on the resident to reuse, recycle and reduce,” said Coun. Joe Strojwas. “These are initiatives that we need at the forefront as leaders of this community, and every other community. Other communities are looking at the different avenues. We need to put this back on the table, and look at this hard. If want other options, let’s get other options. But let’s move forward about reusing, recycling, and reducing.”
The composting facility development changed the potential for the town’s municipal solid waste initiative by significantly impacting the project’s economics. The town currently pays approximately $110 per tonne to haul and tip garbage. Bio-Can’s offer would have reduced this cost to an estimated $25 per tonne for anything compostable.
“Even Lethbridge city council is revisiting this whole garbage thing, because it’s an issue in every community,” said Coun. Strojwas. “This is something that we need to deal with sooner than later. At the last council meeting where we voted against this, I heard a lot of negativity about these bins, and how wind blows them, and that they’re a problem. Some of the things that were said at this very council table is that the bins will blow away. Well they don’t blow away in Pincher Creek, and they don’t tip over and roll down the street, and the wind is much more severe there.”
The town hauls roughly 110 tonnes of garbage per week. Administration estimated about half of this total could be composted, representing a savings of approximately $240,000 per year if the proposed system were to be implemented.
In a withering condemnation, Coun. Strojwas went on to attack the previous position of fellow councillors who voted against the solid waste initiative, calling their evaluation of the views of municipal residents a “poor excuse” for voting down the initiative.
“Just sitting on our backsides for another six months isn’t answering the fact that the landfills are becoming overfull, tipping fees are going up, trucking fees are going up — we’re not doing anything that is in favour of this community,” said Coun. Strojwas. “We’re just sitting on our backsides. The comment was ‘I’m scared that the people that voted me in don’t want me to vote for this’. Well that’s a poor excuse. We’ve got to take this initiative by the hand, at the root of the problem, and proceed forward on this.”
Coun. Rick Popadynetz countered that careful evaluation of a major initiative should not be viewed as a negative position.
“Rushing into a poor decision would be bad.”
Affecting a conciliatory air, Coun. Strojwas continued to push for the initiative to be brought back for further discussion.
“I’m just asking that it be re-brought in with some alternatives, and I’ve proposed one alternative, the green alternative.”
The municipal solid waste initiative proposed a system of collection which would eliminate the need to sort containers at home and deliver them to a central location, replacing it with a system where recyclables would be picked up in one cart at each resident’s property. Administration did not suggest this would create significant savings for ratepayers, but would represent an environmental improvement for the community.
Under a municipal solid waste proposal submitted by Coun. Strojwas as part of his notice of motion (but not yet approved by town council), current residences still under the hand pick-up system would be shifted to the new system starting July 1, while a notice would be sent out with month-end utility bills advising residences to check off a box to be included as part of the initiative. Those town blocks which receive a 51 per cent majority would also be included in the new initiative. Those with a majority against the initiative would stay with the present system, while paying additional tipping and trucking costs to handle their garbage. Those residences which do not participate from the initial start date of July 1 would also be required to purchase their own bins to participate under the new system.
“I’ve been talking to a lot of people that are terribly disappointed that we voted down that initiative,” said Coun. Laura Ross-Giroux. “I’ve also gone out and talked to people in Coaldale. They love their bins, some of them don’t totally recycle, but they wouldn’t trade their bins for anything. On a personal note, I have a bin on my land and I hate it. I went to take out my garbage the other day, and I see it full of cans and bottles. We’ve got to put a stop to this, it’s just so wasteful. We have to look at the expenses, and we just can’t afford to do this any longer — we need to deal with this right away.”