Durham Region councillors talking trash over new garbage facility slated for Clarington

There's a David-and-Goliath battle brewing in Durham Region over garbage - specifically, what should be done with it, and where it should go. Regional and local councillors are clashing over a proposal for a waste separation facility in south Clarington.

Plan doesn't fit with waterfront park dream, locals say

Concerned citizen Wendy Bracken speaks with the CBC’s Michael Smee about the health and environmental effects of trash incinerators near the Durham York Energy Centre incineration facility, in Courtice, Ont., on Aug. 4, 2021. (Evan Mitsui/CBC)

There's a David and Goliath battle brewing in Durham Region over garbage — specifically, what should be done with it, and where it should go.

On one side are Durham Region councillors who want to build a waste separation facility in south Clarington — which already hosts two incinerators. On the other side are Clarington councillors and locals who say enough is enough. 

"Is that really what we want to be, the waste capital of Durham Region?" Clarington Coun. Joe Neal asked. "I think the rest of Durham Region is happy everything's out of their bailiwick and it's all in Clarington." 

Clarington, with a population of less than 100,000, is one of eight communities that make up Durham Region. It contains the municipal Durham York Energy Centre incinerator that processes about 160,000 tonnes of waste a year, and the nearby St. Mary's Cement incinerator, which burns a similar amount.

The third planned facility — known as the anaerobic digester project — will separate plastics from organics, which can then be used to produce compost and natural gas. The plastics will go to the incinerator.

Clarington and Durham Region Coun. Joe Neal says waste plants are not compatible with the waterfront park he envisions nearby. (Evan Mitsui/CBC)

But some residents say they're worried about what all that incineration is doing to the air quality in Clarington and the surrounding areas.

"We're concerned that Clarington is becoming a sacrifice zone," long-time resident Wendy Bracken said.

"When you add a little bit to a very burdened airshed, in a pristine area ... this is the problem. We're becoming a sacrifice." 

Instead, Bracken said she'd like to see incineration reduced in Durham Region and recycling increased.

Sunbathers take a dip at Alijco Beach, near the Durham incineration facility, in Courtice, Ont., on Aug. 4, 2021. (Evan Mitsui/CBC)

The region voted to locate the new waste facility in south Clarington, on the grounds of the Durham York Energy Centre,  in May, 2020. Clarington council has been fighting that decision ever since. Later that year, the municipality invoked its right to take the region to mediation, in an attempt to overturn the decision.

Face-to-face talks begin next month, Neal says.

Neal believes the new facility is the thin edge of the wedge.

"What comes after that? Are we going to be taking on all the recycling facilities [in the region]?"

As well, Neal says the third  facility, planned for the grounds of the current Durham York Energy Centre near the waterfront, runs counter to the area's plan to create a park there.

"There are proposals for things like amphitheatres where performances could take place, a lot of children's play equipment," Neal said, "so a family could picnic and have all kinds of activities and really enjoy this waterfront.

"We see this as incompatible; the region thinks it is."

Problems overblown, regional councillors say

But other Durham Region councillors say Clarington's concerns are overblown.

Coun. Bill McLean, who represents Ward 2 in Pickering, called the planned anaerobic digester facility "the best of the best and the safest of the safest."

He maintains that because the facility will divert more household organics away from the incinerator, it'll actually reduce emissions."

We're sympathetic to the concerns of Clarington," he said.

"And we're doing everything we can to be a good community partner with them.

"We looked at five or six different locations, and this one in Clarington checked all the boxes,  as the best location for transportation, for location." 


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