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January 22, 2014

Comments

I thought none of Guelph's organic waste went to a landfill prior to the organics facility. I understood it went to a waste to energy facility, not a landfill. Can someone tell me what landfill it went to?

I am very confused. I just read the ranking report and am sure it is accurate but what exactly did we do to increase our diversion rates so dramatically. It went from 49% to 68%. I don't get the math. Our organics were never landfilled. They also said that only 32% of our organics are now being diverted which is roughly 3,000 tons. How can this possibly make such a huge increase? Can anyone shed some light?

Yeah,Yeah, We are number one.We also on top when it comes to the costs of our waste management operation. Perhaps Mayor Farbridge should thank Guelph taxpayers which have funded this totally out-of-line cost- wise of this operation.For examplein 2012 net costs rose 14.7% and have cost increases of 8.1% compoundper year in the 2006-2012 period.
All figures are available in the Financial information Reports of the Ministry of Municipalities and Housing.

I think waste to energy doesn't count as diversion even though it's not being landfilled. Not sure though.

Chris, can you clarify please ... you write: "Guelph's organic residential waste diversion rate also topped all jurisdictions in the province. In 2012, 32 per cent of Guelph's ORGANIC [emphasis mine] residential waste went to the organics procession facility on Dunlop Drive, rather than a landfill."

Is that correct? Is only 32% of the organic (wet) stream going to the organic plant? Or is it 32% of all waste? I would have assumed 100% of the green waste is being processed at the plant.

Im hoping it's a typo here and that two-thirds of what we are sorting into the green bins/bags isn't going to landfill. Thanks for clarifying Chris.

I'd also like an answer to D C's question..

After exploring the various spreadsheets, it would appear that the City simply stopped sending trash out for incineration (EFW: energy from waste). The actual amount of waste going to landfill has actually gone up slightly.

It's difficult to read the tables sometimes, but as expressed in terms of the percentage weight of all waste, some things went up and some things went down from 2011 to 2012.

Recyclables: 22.8% to 27.7% (very good)
Compost: 18% to 32.6% (great)
EFW (incineration): 20.3% to 0% (great)
Landfill: 30.8% to 32.3% (poor)
Other: 8.1% to 8.4%

So, while we are burning much less and composting much more, we are actually sending a little more waste to landfill. And delving a bit deeper, it also seems that we were previously burning things that are now being classified as recyclable, most likely due to better household sorting.

Overall, this is good news and credit where credit is due, the City should be commended.

This story is defective, I suggest, in not providing sufficient context.

As I understand it, the Ontario government is mandating the diversion of waste by all municipalities, and setting targets. Not sure, but I believe the current goal is for each municipality to reach 60% diversion, and undoubtedly it will increase in later years. So we are ahead of the curve, and that is reason to celebrate.

I’d like to suggest that one of the reasons for celebration is that this places Guelph on the good books with the province, once again. Guelph is I think one of the few municipalities that accepted Places to Grow without whining, which surely pleased the province, and then placed us in a favourable position when it became necessary to request a reduction in population growth targets because of water capacity. I don’t think any other municipality was able to achieve that.

And this time, let’s hope the province’s good will extends to stopping Dolime quarry from continuing to remove the protective cover from the aquifer the provides our water.

For those that refuse to celebrate this achievement because of the cost, yeah the rest of us get it—sending it all to landfill is the cheapest way to get rid of it. So consider this, if your conscience doesn’t tell you that sometimes the right thing costs more than our mindless gut reaction to just throw it away, than contemplate the long term costs that could result from refusing to cooperate with the province. Doing it right now is hands down going to be a lot less expensive that doing it right under the gun later. Driven primarily by Farbridge, I think, we have significant excess capacity in our composting plant, a brilliant hedge against ever escalating construction costs.

Mr. Gallon:
That is assuming the compost plant survives for 20 years. Remember the first one did not last 10 years due to the toxic environment and the failure of the City to listen to advice from the (LOCAL)Galvanizing Company that galvanized iron would not work! Stainless steel was the proper but more expensive solution.
Your "doing it right" theme has all the attractiveness of a Newfie Shower!!
L hope we are both around when this one fails!! I REMEMBER!

Mr. Gallon:
To reinforce my point -
I WILL REMEMBER - YOU WILL NOT!
BUT I WILL REMIND YOU WHEN THIS PLAN FAILS -
AND IT WILL!

Thanks Oracle for the all CAPS reminder, but just because something completely different failed in the past doesn't mean this plan is going to fail. Guelph was at the cutting edge with the wet/dry plant, trying something new and it failed, but at least they tried (and inspired several municipalities to re-evaluate their waste systems). Now they are using tested technology which several other cities have already done. Based on this report it looks like it's working.

Jeff:
I get it - you are a mindless supporter of whatever pipe dream the Mayor thinks "could work". However the Mayor is now on firmer soil - WHY? Because after many terms on Council she know understands that "Energy from Waste" is much more acceptable than the predecessor - INCINERATION. Now that is a winner which will minimize the City use of landfill!

Oracle:
I'm not a supporter of anyone yet. And most of your posts don't actually make any sense. You seem to be an expert on saying a lot, while not saying anything at all, nor can you spell properly.

Jeff:
I commented that the city received a request from a local galvanizing company to use stainless steel instead of galvanized steel - a bit more expensive but less expensive in the long run. If the City had listened the original compost plant would still be around and the Farbridge dream would be a success not a FAILURE! You say that doesn't make sense but that is probably because you have never read the "True Believer".
Comment no 2 is that after years of rejecting Incineration Farbridge can now see "Energy from waste" as a contributing factor in further reducing the City's use of landfill. That is a fantastic shift from the NDP position that not a good solution.
There is also the cashing in of the Hydro loan and several people have inquired how the $37plus millions were spent. Not a single response from the City or Guelph Hydro. Is this TRANSPARENCY - maybe to you but not to those of us who see the Financial train wreck that lies ahead!
And every comment that I see from you on this Blog is defending the Mayor from critics who raise valid concerns about the poorly researched proposals.
Do some research on these issues because I find your attacks to be dismissive and disgusting. You are not an English teacher perchance!!

Oracle:

Correct me if I am wrong, but the original Wet/Dry facility was built long before Karen Farbridge and other Councillors were in control. I recall the deliberations over the wet/dry and it was built by a very conservative Council after a very long, expensive, and fruitless process trying to find a new landfill site. So I do not see how anyone can blame the current Council for the old building failing.

Secondly, I recall a comment on this discussion list from Susan Watson that clearly stated that the Guelph Hydro Bonds were cashed in to allow Council to be able to take advantage of the federal stimulous money that Ottawa offered any municipality that had jobs ready to do. We got a lot of deferred maintenance done at a very cheap price. I don't see how that it anything but an example of how the Council is doing a good job saving the taxpayers money.

That was brought up at the Mayor's Q &A session last Thursday. The federal stimulus program presented an opportunity to get a lot of badly needed infrastructure work done at a low cost to the city. The only catch was that we needed to invest our own share of the cost at short notice without the opportunity to budget for it properly. Cashing the hydro note allowed the projects to go ahead with help from the stimulus grants.
If it wasn't done that way those infrastructure projects would still have gone ahead at much higher cost to the taxpayer.

A lot of the stimulus money was pissed away on the crappy new railway bridge that won't let trucks underneath, AND the crappy new bus spot that is in totally the wrong spot, AND a million dollar clock at the Sleeman's Centre. Very little in the way of sewers or roads and nothing at all to benefit the poor. And we all still had to pay for it, just more provincially and federally than at a municipal level. The Mayor had the gall to call it "free" money when there is only one taxpayer.

Re: Prior Composting Plant
While it is true that at the time of construction, the option to galvanize for a relatively minor additional amount was rejected, the plant as built was designed to last 10 years, and that is exactly how long it did last. As it approached its death date, remedial maitenance would have extended its life. However at that time, the dysfunction, hyper conservative Quarrie council was in power. The majority were known to not care at all about responsible garbage management, so their staff did not even bother to bring forward either remedial life-extending options, or plans to replace the plant with something better in a timely fashion, that is, so a new plant could've in place before the old one died.

The result of this irresponsible position of our last right dominated council was that Guelph, once the Canadian leader in waste diversion and composting, suffered the indignity of hauling our divert able garbage down the high way to London and New York State. And of the cost was horrendous.

There is absolutely do reason to believe that the fiasco of the unplanned demise of the old plant and the interim shipping of our waste off shore is an indicator of potential mismanagement this time--unless we are foolish enough to vote out Farbridge and her coalition of left and right leaning councillor and replace, once again, with the mindless "cheap is always best" conservative types who ruled the Quarrie Council.

As for incineration, energy from waste technologies, yes indeed today there are options that make sense, but that technology had not yet been proven when the decision for composting again was made. Further, the capital investment cost was way to high for a single city to invest in. In my opinion it is time for the province to pony up the big bucks required to see if that is the better way with a multi-city plant.


The bus depot seems out of place now, but with two new condo towers springing up at the east end of Macdonell that part of the city is in for some big changes. That location may make a lot more sense in a few years.

And that stimulus money was going out to municipalities no matter what. If Guelph hadn't gotten their share then "our" federal and provincial tax money would have been spent elsewhere.

Who the hell in condos ever use Guelph Transit? This city thinks that condo-dwellers and ice-skaters and Go-Transit users all want to hop on the bus, and none of them ever do. Without students and factory workers and the poor, every bus going by would be empty, not just half of them like it is now.

Mr Galon,

You seem to have a good handle on the situation. I think everyone would find it helpful if you could just outline the costs associated with the organic facility.

1. What did the old facility cost per tonne to process? The entire cost, not just the fee we pay to the operator.
2. What did the new facility cost to process our waste in 2012 and 2013? The entire cost, not just the fee we pay to the operator. Let's also include any staff, including the manager.
3. What did the trucking the waste to NY cost (all in)?
4. What long term price could we have locked in with Hamilton?
5. How much of our organic waste went to a landfill prior to the new plant becoming operational?

I think if you answer those questions it will end the conversation.

Ray:

"A lot of the stimulus money was pissed away on the crappy new railway bridge that won't let trucks underneath"

Well, the bridge does allow trucks to go underneath it. The I-beams that CN installed to protect it do not. Having said that, what is the problem? Trucks can still access the downtown. Are you suggesting that the Mayor and Council were directly involved in drawing up the blueprints, writing the contracts and over-seeing the construction? Do you never make mistakes?

"the crappy new bus spot that is in totally the wrong spot"

As someone else mentioned, it seems pretty central to a lot of new condo development. And it does allow people to go from city bus to GO transit very quickly. What might not seem good to you right now may very well turn out to be a very good idea in 20 years. That's what planning is all about, trying to anticipate the future.

"a million dollar clock at the Sleeman's Centre", well that was paid for mostly by Ottawa. Again, would you rather that the city turned down the money?

As for the idea that a "lot" of the money went to these three items, perhaps. But I seem to recall enormous amounts of work being done to change the water and sewer mains, plus putting new street lights, burying hydro lines, and resurfacing roads.

D C,
I believe not all of the organic waste is heading to the wet/dry plant because a large share of residents are tossing organic waste into the garbage rather than a green bin. I don't think it's a question of solid waste services diverting organic waste to the landfill.

Ray, even if the condo dwellers don't personally use the buses they will bring new businesses and services to that part of downtown. The only reason the bus depot seems out of place now is because It's among bars, head shops and tattoo parlours. That will change.

I found WDO (Waste Diversion Ontario) very helpful in understanding the data. Guelph generated 43,735 tonnes of garbage. The 31.63% represents the % of this total in diverted organics or 13,833 tonnes for 2012 (this are numbers received directly from WDO).

This is why I couldn't make sense of what has happened.

We have been told that we would be producing between 8,000 and 9,000 tonnes of organic waste annually. We know that the organic facility did not operate for the entire year. We know that some significant % of residents can't have their organic waste collected (condos). Also, based on Chris' comment, apparently some of us are not sorting properly.

Can someone explain how we were able to compost 13,833 tonnes? (WDO also confirmed that Guelph does not get credit for composting other municipality's organics)?

Just as an additional complexity, is there any part of the data that considers backyard composting? I compost almost all my organic waste myself.

Hi Fred - they have a category called Residential on Property (6.09% or 2.6 tonnes for Guelph). This covers backyard composting - seems like a lot but I don't have any sense of scale for this.

DC, the increase in garbage could be due to the changed made in sorting. Eg. diapers used to be compost, now they are garbage. Styrofoam used to be recyclying, now goes to garbage...? This could account for some of the increase in garbage.

Ottawa gives us a million dollars and we buy a clock.
Meanwhile were painting uneven side walks orange and giving developers millions of dollars so they'll build downtown.
This is all you need to know about the self serving hypocrites who are currently running the show.

Geo, the city is not 'giving' millions to any developers. What they are doing is making a deal with owners of undeveloped contaminated brownfields that if they clean up and develop their land they can continue paying property tax at their current rate for undeveloped land for a few years.
In other words, the city is deferring tax money that they wouldn't be getting anyway without the development. In my books that's a win-win because once the deferrals expire the city will start collecting a large amount of new property taxes which should lessen the burden for all of us.
As an added bonus we get a downtown core transformed from a Friday and Saturday night hangout for students to a place where condo owners live and work every day.

These condo owners are not going to work downtown and I don't want to step on the Oracles toes but I predict that were never going to see a dime of that deferred tax money.

Steve,
You analysis on the downtown incentive grants is a little off. Once built the city will collect standard property taxes from the owners of the new residences just as they would for any new development. The City will then pay the developer an equivalent amount (not exactly but that’s a longer discussion) for ten years. You (and most councillors) will describe this as a win-win because we wouldn’t have had this tax revenue anyway. However, everyone forgets that property taxes are not a profit centre – they are a cost recovery mechanism. For every dollar of property tax, there is an equal amount of expense. If this wasn’t the case, every new housing unit built would decrease the tax burden for everyone else. So each year we have expenses for a downtown project that are being paid for by the rest of the taxbase. In year 11, we stop paying the developer and the taxes collected equal the normal expenses incurred, so we are back to a neutral position. Our City needs to stop spinning everything. They should stand up and say we want everyone kick in $33 million to pay developers to build up our downtown and then explain why it is necessary.
This is $33 million. I have found that the media has a very poor financial skill set which has resulted in terrible coverage of this issue. Even worse, some councillors do not understand it either. We deserve better.

Pat:

My understanding is that the cost of servicing an already existing lot in the downtown is a lot less than a totally new development. I am also under the impression that higher density developments are also much less costly per unit than low density sprawl. So, in effect, developments of the sort that Tricar and Fusion are building in the downtown core will end up subsidizing the suburban sprawl that has been built over the last few decades at the periphery of the city.

I suppose what anyone chooses to emphasize says something about one's ideological persuasion, no?

Fred,
This has nothing to do with my ideological persuasion, unless you are referring to honesty. This administration, led by our current mayor, has consistently “managed” the information flow. The spin and misdirection on important issues is offensive. This is yet another example. The cost of servicing a development is paid for by the developer. The operational costs of the new units is usually reflected in the property assessment and the tax rate and in any case was not part of a business case – if you have it please show us. Many of our councillors lack basic financial analysis skills and resort to parroting what they hear from staff. A few of them are quoting an increase in tax revenue of 36 times – of what relevance is this when the costs also go up 36 times. It boggles the mind that we have councillors approving a $33 million expenditure without understanding the cash flows – I asked one of them and I would embarrass our City if I posted his response.

You seem to be saying that all tax assessments are revenue neutral...that the tax collected from a condo unit is exactly equal to the city's cost of servicing that unit. I'm pretty sure that's not the case and if you have evidence showing otherwise I'd love to see it.

Steve,
I have absolutely no evidence to show the actual annual cost to the city of a condo unit. All I know is that we allocate our expenses based on assessed value. While this information is critical to any meaningful analysis and decision making, it is not really relevant to my point.
Our city councillors approved the spending of $33 million without any expense analysis. All we hear now is win-win and 36x revenue. You seem like a reasonable person. Would you approve this program without this information?
I don’t think the majority of councillors are deceptive. I think they simply lack basic finance skills. Maybe we should factor the votes with an entrance exam percentage….

Pat:

It seems to me that you are expecting a level of financial "graininess" in decision-making that no one would honestly expect in either a city council or a press release. It's true that a great many decisions are made with less than adequate information. It's also true that the level of information used in decision-making is often a result of institutional ideology.

Having said that, I can give lots and lots of examples from previous Councils who suffered from exactly the same issues. I can remember, for example, the city hiring consultants who were arguing that the on-going costs of suburban sprawl were not being properly offset through impost fees and property taxes. This meant that the rapid growth of the city in the 80s and 90s would result in the older, more dense parts of the city being forced to subsidize this new development---if it didn't result in the city being bankrupted. As I recall, Council voted to increase impost fees dramatically to curb sprawl. Shortly afterwards, a secret meeting between Council and the home builder's association was called and Council reversed it's decision. (Luckily the federal stimulus fund came into play when a lot of infrastructure work needed to be done, or else the worries of these consultants might have proved true.)

There is a lot of evidence from other municipalities, including Kitchener, that encouraging high-density development in the downtown core is a strategy that results in net increases in tax revenues for a city. In this case I think it is totally reasonable for Council to follow the suggestions of consultants and planning professionals instead of expecting them to do a case-by-case analysis. Any such venture would involve making many contestable assumptions anyway.

Inevitably, this sort of decision has to come down to one's instincts. It's much like the old argument about business plans. I've worked with a lot business people and while it is important to think about any venture you get into, I find that the value of business plans for entrepeneurs is over-sold. A lot of things are simply too complex to reduce to a number. Eventually, you have to go with your instincts. That is why we elect politicians, not to be experts.

Fred,
This will be my last post on this subject. I only wanted to bring to people’s attention what has happened. One of my many flaws, is my inability to respond effectively to absurd comments…but I’ll try. I would never suggest, and if I did I apologize, that a decision should come down to a single number – that’s absurd. What I am saying is that you should have a number in front of you to aid in your decision. If you don’t have the information in front of you prior to a vote then ask for it. Not requesting the relevant information is irresponsible and offensive to taxpayers. I agree that entrepreneurs rarely follow a business plan and rely on instinct and while most end poorly, some don’t. But that’s the life of an entrepreneur and their call. It’s a tad different for the City of Guelph. Thanks for your feedback.

I think I am going to start paying for a dumpster company to leave a bin in my driveway until I fill it.
Maybe www.mmebinrental.ca or something. Less stressful than this bin system.

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About Chris

  • Chris Herhalt
    covers municipal affairs and politics for the Guelph Mercury. Prior to joining the Mercury he worked at The Record of Waterloo Region and at The Canadian Press. He can be reached at [email protected]