Decision time nears for controversial Boundary Road landfill proposal

Ontario's environment minister will soon have to make a decision on a plan to build a major waste facility on Ottawa's eastern edge at Boundary Road and Highway 417.

Residents of Russell Township, Cumberland have fought Taggart project since 2010

Residents in Russell Township and Ottawa's Cumberland ward have been fighting a proposal to build a waste facility in the area since 2010. Taggart Miller originally proposed a site on Russell Road, but in 2012 switched to one at Boundary and Divine roads. (CBC)

Ontario's environment minister will soon have to make a decision on a plan to build a major waste facility on Ottawa's eastern edge at Boundary Road and Highway 417.

The project by Taggart Miller Environmental Services has been wending its way through stages of its environmental assessment since 2010, attracting opposition from residents and city councillors along the way.

Today is the last day that Ministry of Environment and Climate Change will accept comments on the project, which would cater to the non-residential sectors — industry, hospitals, schools, offices and construction projects — that are responsible for the majority of waste generated in Ottawa.

Despite its aims, Michelle Taggart is disappointed when people call the project a landfill or a dump.

The waste facility at Boundary Road and Highway 417 will boost the amount of material recycled by Ottawa's industrial, commercial and institutional sectors, says Michelle Taggart, director of development for Taggart Investments and Tamarack Homes. (CBC)

"It's so much more than that," said Taggart, the director of development with Taggart Investments and Tamarack Homes. "Eighty per cent of our efforts and our energy is going into the recycling part of this project."

As for actual diversion, the project's environmental assessment documents sets out an overall target of diverting 49 per cent of the 10 to 13 million tonnes of waste it expects to take in over 30 years, while the rest would be landfilled.

The fact her family's company is in the construction business is what led to the joint venture with Markham, Ont.-based The Miller Group in the first place, said Taggart.

"We wanted our own solutions for our own waste that we were producing — sometimes contaminated soils, building demolition — and there wasn't an affordable option for recycling those materials in Ottawa," said Taggart.

Cheap dumping in upstate New York

"It's a huge problem," said Ottawa-based waste consultant Duncan Bury of how much waste from non-residential sectors continues to go straight into landfills.

The Taggart Miller waste facility (boundaries shown in red) is proposed for a site located in rural, eastern Ottawa, south of Highway 417 at the Boundary Road exit. (Taggart Miller Environmental Services)

While the city estimates Ottawa households manage to divert nearly half of their garbage, the diversion rate is only about 12 per cent for industrial, commercial and institutional sectors.

In the Ottawa area, something like 400,000 tonnes of waste is sent across the U.S. border to cheap landfill sites in upstate New York, Bury said.

Until the Ontario government "grabs the bull by the horns" and creates aggressive policy requiring those sectors to do otherwise, waste will continue to be shipped across the border, said Bury.

Bury said he hopes such regulations might come in the next few years out of a bill called the Waste-Free Ontario Act. Bill 151 is the Ontario government's latest attempt to divert more garbage from landfills and force the companies that create the packaging to pay for what happens to it.

At Queen's Park, where the bill is nearing royal assent, MPPs spoke this week about how companies that broker recycled materials would see larger markets with the new legislation.

The site where Taggart Miller wants to build a recycling facility and landfill is bounded by Highway 417, Boundary Road, Divine Road and Frontier Road. (Kate Porter/CBC)

"If the province starts requiring businesses to do more diversion, that's amazing," said Taggart. "Because we'll be set up to take on that diversion."

There's also another project in west Ottawa that's being set up as a "waste recovery centre." Waste Management's plan to expand the Carp Road landfill received approval from the Ministry of Environment and Climate Change for its environmental assessment in August 2013.

Like an 'out-of-control train'

Worries about the Taggart Miller proposal have not gone away over the years, however.

The City of Ottawa is about to submit its concerns regarding the last stage of the environmental assessment — its final chance to weigh in on a project for which the approval is entirely in provincial hands.

At a committee meeting this week, staff and residents both expressed concern the site would primarily be used as a landfill and that it would take in materials from far outside the region.

They spoke about bad odours, falling property values, increased truck traffic on Boundary Road, and concerns that pollutants could seep through the sandy soil.

Cumberland Coun. Stephen Blais added his comments to the report, describing how he has been working with residents to fight the project since it cropped up in Carlsbad Springs in 2012.

"Despite these loud and numerous voices of dissent, the project continues down the track like the out-of-control train heading toward the cliff," Blais said.

Laurie McCannell of Sweet Garden Farm is concerned the Taggart Miller landfill will leak pollutants. (Kate Porter/CBC)

Reject proposal or hold independent hearing, say residents

Laurie McCannell, whose apple orchard is not far from the site, said she's frustrated by how little the ministry has done to assuage concerns.

"I have a hundred page document from the ministry where they're satisfied on every single point despite the fact they're technically unresolved," said McCannell. "There's no actual answer given to the concerns that were raised."

The environmental assessment, and the ministry's review of it, leave too many unanswered questions, agreed longtime environmental lawyer Rick Lindgren, who is representing residents.

He submitted comments to the ministry Friday calling on the minister to reject Taggart Miller's proposal or refer it to the environmental review tribunal for an independent decision. 

"To my mind this is first and foremost a waste disposal site with some 3R (reduce, reuse, recycle) bells and whistles," said Lindgren, who said Taggart Miller is requesting far too much landfill capacity — a maximum of 450,000 tonnes per year —to convince him the focus will be on waste diversion.

According to the Ministry of the Environment and Climate Change, all these public comments were taken into account during its review of Taggart Miller's environmental assessment.

As for who would inspect the waste facility — should Murray grant approval for it to be built — and respond to any public reports about environmental concerns, that responsibility would fall on the ministry itself, a ministry spokesperson told CBC News. 

Taggart, meanwhile, insists the facility will be dealing only with local waste, since the environmental assessment sets out a strict catchment area.

"We cannot go outside that, and it's only a certain part of eastern Ontario. There will be nothing coming from Toronto," she said.

If the project does get approval from the province, it's expected to open in two or three years.