Nova Scotia

Yarmouth misses garbage-strewn compost cleanup deadline

The Town of Yarmouth has been fined by the province after missing a deadline to clean up compost strewn with garbage that it spread on property near its drinking water supply.

Nova Scotia Environment Department issues two $812.50 fines against town

Adam Russell walks through a garbage-filled field near his home in Lake George, Yarmouth County. (CBC)

The Town of Yarmouth has missed a provincially imposed deadline to clean up contaminated compost spread near its drinking water source, but the mayor vows the work will get done.

The Environment Department ordered the town to clean up the area after truckloads of what was supposed to be Class B compost were spread over four hectares of land in Lake George. The compost was found to contain plastic, cutlery and other materials that never should have made it into the system.

When the deadline for the cleanup and other action came and went earlier this month, the town received two summary offence tickets, each for $812.50. The deadline to complete the work has now been extended to next month.

Frustrated

The Town of Yarmouth spread compost over a field in the Lake George area once occupied by a sawmill. It turned out to contain plenty of garbage. (CBC)

At least one resident of the community isn't happy about the delays.

"This has been three months now," said Rob Gray. "The town said they put [the compost] in there in four days; we've been three months and haven't hauled a truckload out yet."

Much of the waste has been gathered into windrows several metres tall, but Gray said he's only ever seen one person at a time walking the four-hectare site picking through what remains on the ground.

Town vows to complete the work

Mayor Pam Mood said the job will get done, but town staff are still trying to source all the equipment they need to be able to remove the contaminants, and they were also hampered by the weather. The biggest challenge, however, has been finding a place to move the materials, she said.

"We're trying to find a suitable location to move the materials to because we don't [want to] have to move it twice."

The material is safe and could have stayed there and been screened to a Class A standard, but Mood said the town is respecting residents' wishes that such work not happen at the site. She believes the new timelines from the province are achievable.

"To do the trucking itself should be relatively simple, but it's just to find that place that you can land all that material."

Yarmouth Mayor Pam Mood says the town is looking into how garbage came to be mixed with compost that was spread over a field in the Lake George area. (CBC)

There remain questions about what went wrong, but Mood notes there were many breakdowns, starting with what people were putting in their green carts and too little scrutiny as compost was prepared to be moved off-site.

"When it first got laid it didn't even look that bad unless you really looked at it, but once it starts to rain and it dries out and it blows away it's like anything else: the rest of it kind of rises to the top."

Water concerns

The work in Lake George became more than just picking up garbage after testing showed high levels of lead in some residents' water, although there was no impact on the town's drinking supply.

The contamination has been traced to a former sawmill at the site in question; the town bought the land in 2005, a year after it closed. The intention was to spread the compost, seed the site and convert it to a field.

Now 17 monitoring wells have been drilled and officials are trying to determine how to clean the water. Gray's water, for example, is brown — "It looks like pond water" — and he's been drinking bottled water provided by the town.

Aside from cleaning the site and finding a fix for the water, Gray said he and others also want to see someone held responsible for what happened.

"The price tag keeps climbing, which is going to fall back on the local taxpayers here. If I made a mistake or you made a mistake like that and cost your employer that much, you'd probably be in trouble."

Mood, who said the work related to the lead in the water so far has cost $120,000, has previously said the town failed at communicating with the community. She said steps are now being taken to make sure Class B compost contains only what it is supposed to, but she said those were the only details she could provide.

Other enforcement options

A spokeswoman for the Environment Department said it would be up to inspectors to determine what could happen if the town misses the next deadline; options include warnings, orders and directives, summary offense tickets, prosecution and ministerial orders. The department also has the ability to issue daily charges if violations persist.

Environment Minister Margaret Miller was not made available for questions about whether or not fines are large enough to motivate offending parties to act.

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