Some call it a waste of money. Some said the current system isn’t broke, so why fix it?

But still, the city is moving ahead with a new $111-million sewage sludge treatment plant.

The city will spend $3 million to do initial work on a new plant on Woodward Avenue, and issue a request for pre-qualifications for companies that could operate it. 

'When you look at the environment, look at the social or look at the financial, it simply doesn’t add up in any shape or form.' - Ward 4 Councillor Sam Merulla

The plant will cost the city millions to build, and could involve incineration or one of several other technologies, depending on who wins the contract.

Two councillors said Wednesday that the project doesn’t make financial sense. Eighty per cent of Ontario municipalities do what Hamilton currently does with its sludge — spread it on local farm fields.

“I haven’t been convinced yet that (a new plant) is the cheapest option for us,” said Coun. Chad Collins of Ward 5.

“I can’t support this. I haven’t in the past and I can’t in the future.”

Every day, the city produces roughly 100 tons of “biosolids” — treated sludge from local sewage. In December, the federal government pledged $22.91 million through the P3 Canada Fund to the city for public-private partnerships.

On Wednesday, the city’s general issues committee voted to issue a request for pre-qualifications. The city will also spend up to $3 million to do preliminary work on it.

Whatever operator the city chooses, the federal money will pay for 25 per cent of the cost to build the facility to a maximum of $22.91 million. The city will pay for the other 75 per cent, plus the cost of operating the facility over the next 30 years. The maximum budget is around $111 million over 30 years.

Collins and Coun. Sam Merulla voted against moving ahead with the project.

“When you look at the environment, look at the social or look at the financial, it simply doesn’t add up in any shape or form,” said Merulla, who represents Ward 4.

Farmers worried

Collins also worries that once the facility is operating, the city will take waste from other municipalities to make money.

But the current method can’t continue, said Coun. Lloyd Ferguson of Ancaster. Even treated, the sludge likely contains pharmaceuticals, metal and other unknown elements.

Increasingly, farmers don’t want the waste, and those farmers’ neighbours don’t want to be near it either, Ferguson said.

“The odours blow you away, and who knows what the heck is in there?”

The city will spend $2.5 million to hire “transaction advisers” to do initial work on the project, including legal, financial and engineering services.

It will also spent $500,000 for a “fairness monitor,” who will oversee the procurement process for the project to satisfy the city and federal governments that “an open, transparent and fair process was undertaken for all proponents.”