CMC CHAIR’S YEAR-END REMARKS to the Meeting relating to the past FISCAL YEAR 2021-2022

It’s been a turbulent last 12 months for your Community Monitoring Committee. It would not be an exaggeration to state that it’s been the most difficult year for CMC since its inception in 1999.

The reason is down to the Halifax Regional Municipality’s determination – supported by Mirror Nova Scotia, the operator of the Otter Lake Landfill – to proceed with its plan to deactivate the landfill’s front-end processor and the waste stabilization facility. The decision was made against ours strenuous objections and – in our view – in contravention of the 1999 agreement.

That agreement between HRM and our parent organization, the Halifax Waste/Resource Society, stipulates that only “acceptable waste” will be buried at the Otter Lake site. Implicit in the agreement is that the maintenance of the garbage filtering operations of the front-end processor and waste stabilization facility are essential to fulfill that requirement.

Without those processes or a more up-to-date technological replacement for them, we believe HRM will be reneging on its legal responsibilities to you , the affected community.

We could have gone along with the regional municipality’s deactivation plans to get along and have saved ourselves a lot of anxiety and many difficult meetings. In all conscience, though, we couldn’t. On behalf of the communities the CMC represents, the duty to try and uphold the agreement as best we could by mounting an opposition to the HRM plan.

To give you the flavor of what happened this past fiscal year, let me briefly go through a selective timeline that hits the highlights.

In May, last year, after HRM asked the CMC to participate in a pilot project to trial landfill operations without the front-end processor and waste stabilization facility, the CMC advised HRM to forward its request to the Halifax Waste/Resource Society. Based on legal opinion, we concluded the CMC had no authority to participate in a pilot program that altered requirements set out under the 1999 Agreement.

Subsequently, in a May 30 letter to HRM’s director of solid waste, the Halifax Waste/Resource Society declined to participate in the pilot program as well. It was felt participation would contravene the 1999 Agreement. The society’s letter indicated willingness to entertain proposals with new technological alternatives to the front-end processor and waste stabilization facility. However it remained opposed to sidelining the equipment and processes without any replacement. The society termed the HRM plan “irresponsible and unacceptable.”

In July, We accepted an offer from HRM’s Auditor General to discuss operational issues with several CMC members and staff.

In August, Councillor Pam Lovelace, an HRM appointee to the CMC, leveled a number of criticisms against the CMC during a Regional Council meeting and called for a CMC performance review. She was upset because she said CMC invoices were not given to CMC members; that legal opinions given to the CMC were not provided to the HRM councilors on the CMC and that I, as the CMC Chair had inappropriately circulated a letter from the premier, flagged “confidential.” The letter in question was addressed to Mayor Mike Savage who had circulated it to HRM councillors and staff, but contrary to the councillor’s allegation it had not been marked confidential or privileged.

CMC, by approved resolution,  responded that the allegations were unfounded and had unfairly damaged CMC’s reputation. I assured the Council that the correspondence raised by the councillor was not marked confidential and/or privileged. A CMC letter to set the record straight was subsequently sent to HRM.

In October, last year the CMC met with the regional director (central) for the Nova Scotia Department of Environment and Climate Change to discuss the HRM-Mirror Nova Scotia Ltd. application to deactivate the front-end processor and waste stabilization facility. We learned the application was on hold pending results of a public consultation.

November saw HRM post an online community survey – as instructed by the Province –  to fulfill its public consultation obligation.  Essentially the survey tested public satisfaction with various mitigation measures that HRM and Mirror Nova Scotia planned to pursue if and when the front-end processor and waste stabilization facility were shutdown. These mitigation measures were meant to curb such things as growing rodent and scavenger bird populations, increasing roadside litter and the like. However, there was no opportunity for residents to register their view of the HRM plan to drop the landfill’s preventive measures in favour of after-the-fact cleanups.

November was also the month in which CMC began publishing a series of monthly updates in The Masthead on the status of the HRM-Mirror Nova Scotia application and began urging residents in the communities neighbouring the landfill to participate in the HRM survey and to register any complaints they had with the survey to HRM.

Reacting to public frustration with the survey, CMC complained to the minister of environment and climate change, and managed to get some improvements to make the online survey more user-friendly. However we failed to obtain substantive changes to the survey itself.

In January, the results of the public survey came to us in the same way it did for every one else.  They were posted on the HRM website on Jan. 25.

The Halifax Waste Resource Society then commissioned Don Mills, an independent consultant and well-known pollster, to prepare a report on the public survey results. His five-page report was submitted to the Department of Environment and Climate Change in February. Among other things, Mr. Mills pointed out a significant conflict of interest. The survey had been designed by Dillon Consulting, the same go-to consultant that Mirror Nova Scotia uses and that had produced the 2020 FEP/WSF Closure Review for HRM and Mirror Nova Scotia.

The overall results of the survey gave both the CMC – and the Halifax Waste Society-  a morale boost. They confirmed its conviction that residents in the affected communities neighbouring the landfill were overwhelmingly unhappy with HRM’s plan to deactivate the front-end processor and waste stabilization facility. They also told us that there was almost as much dissatisfaction with the plan among residents in the rest of HRM too.

Still, the HRM-Mirror Nova Scotia application received conditional approval in late March by the Department of Environment and Climate Change. According to the conditions, HRM has to guarantee organic waste will be brought down to 10 per cent and a compliance plan has to be developed to indicate how that target will be met. A household waste and special waste management plan has to be developed too with timelines, public education and improved access to diversion depots. Satisfying the provincial governments of those requirements is expected to take roughly six months.

The Halifax Waste Resource Society, our parent organizaton, reacted to the news by filing an appeal of the decision to the Minister of Environment and Climate Change. It was formally received on May 11 by the department. We are now awaiting word on the result, which is expected by June 27, unless the department requires more time to render a decision. 

That actually takes up past the end of the fiscal year, which ended March 31, 2022, but in the interests of bringing everyone up-to-date on the application, I thought it was important to include here.

Now it’s your turn. Have you any questions you want to put to us on last year’s events?

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