British Columbia

Delta compost facility causing a stink in civic election

Delta's handling of an East Ladner compost facility is causing a stink in the city's mayoral race, as strong odours plague nearby residents.

'It's a damn nuisance,' says resident who wants next mayor to do more to stop the stink

The Enviro-Smart Organics composting plant has been operating without an air quality permit and discharging pollutants into the air less than a kilometre away from a small residential neighbourhood. (Jon Hernandez/CBC)

A Delta composting facility is causing a big stink in the race to become the city's next mayor.

It's not just about the odour emanating from the Enviro-Smart plant, which is run by the company, Green For Life. According to disgruntled neighbours, the bad smell has been going on for years — and it's getting worse.

"It's a damn nuisance," says the East Ladner resident John Davies, who says this past summer has been the worst yet. "Couldn't open the windows, couldn't go outside."

Controversy over process

There's also increasing controversy about how Delta handled the plant's lengthy permitting process; in particular, the alleged role played by a current mayoral candidate.

Despite growing complaints, Enviro-Smart operated for over a decade without an air quality permit.

A  permit allows Metro Vancouver to monitor the quantity and nature of the emissions, and apply enforcement measures such as fines and prosecution.

Metro Vancouver finally issued the required permit in early August 2018. It includes an order to enclose the open field of compost and add bio-filters by March 2020, much to relief of neighbours who are fed up with hiding in their homes to get away from the stench.

In mid-August, in response to criticism about how long it took to issue the permit, Metro Vancouver penned a letter to outgoing Mayor Lois Jackson that referenced a March 2013 meeting between the company and Delta city staff.

At the time, Metro Vancouver told Green For Life that an air quality permit and public consultations would be required to continue operations. According to the letter, city staff "strenuously objected" to both conditions.

Permit becomes political

That letter has heated up the race.

The only city staffer in attendance was then-city manager George Harvie, who is currently running for mayor. Harvie says he was acting on behalf of city council at the time.

Rival mayoral candidates Jim Cessford and Sylvia Bishop dispute Harvie's account of events.

Bishop, a city councillor at that time, held a press conference Sept. 24 challenging Harvie to produce evidence that he was acting under the direction of council.

On Sept. 26, Harvie held his own press conference, citing documents to support his claim.

Also on Sept. 26, the City of Delta held a public information meeting to clarify the city's current role in the increasingly complicated effort to stop the stink.

Enviro-Smart Organics is owned by GFL (Green For Life) Environmental Inc. — a North American organic waste company. (Jon Hernandez/CBC)

Appeals all around

The long-awaited permit hasn't satisfied the company or the neighbours.

Although it has agreed to spend upwards of $20 million to enclose the plant, Green For Life has filed an appeal on the grounds that the permit will delay its efforts to upgrade the plant, due to an onerous reporting process. 

Eighteen residents are filing their own appeal, saying that the permit doesn't go far enough to mitigate the foul odours.

And Delta is applying for third-party status in the appeal process, which allows the city to make submissions to the Environmental Appeal Board to help work toward a resolution. According the the city website, the earliest an appeal would be heard is early 2019. 

Ready for some fresh air

Bishop, Cessford and Harvie have all vowed to stop the stench coming from the composting plant.

Change can't come soon enough for Davies of East Ladner, who offers these words of advice for the next mayor.

"Just get the darn thing finished. We'd love to be able to open our windows."