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Place Half-Million Tons of Garbage Here?

That's the annual plan for historic Ashcroft Ranch, targeted for the GVRD's big city waste.

Brenda Jones 10 Nov
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The Greater Vancouver Regional District’s plan to create a landfill with a proposed 100-year lifespan on the historic Ashcroft Ranch, in the Interior, has divided residents of Ashcroft and the surrounding area.

By accepting a half billion pounds of urban garbage a year, the pastoral local community may keep more than 100 local jobs and get $1.5 million annually.

But First Nations bands surrounding Ashcroft Ranch, landowners adjacent to the property and environmental groups oppose the landfill, fearing it will pollute the pristine land, air and water in the area. As well, family members of the previous owners vehemently oppose heaping garbage onto the productive ranchland of their former homestead.

Faced with the likelihood that Cache Creek landfill will reach capacity in 2008, the GVRD purchased the nearby 4,200-hectare Ashcroft Ranch for $4.5 million in 2000. It has since put forth a proposal to use 200 hectares for a new landfill that would likely service the same municipalities currently using Cache Creek. Apart from the GVRD, these include the regional districts for Nanaimo, the Cowichan Valley, the Thompson-Nicola Valley, Powell River and the Fraser Valley. In addition to Ashcroft Ranch, the GVRD would continue dumping solid waste at its landfill on the edge of Burns Bog and burning it at its Burnaby incinerator.

The Ashcroft Ranch Landfill proposal is currently being reviewed for approval by the provincial Environmental Assessment Office.

The GVRD in Ashcroft

The GVRD owns 850 cows and calves and 40 bulls that graze the pastures at Ashcroft Ranch. As well, the ranch includes cultivated hay fields and a farmer sublets some land to grow ginseng crops. According to Jonn Braman, Project Manager for Ashcroft Landfill, the ranch has turned a profit, particularly on the hay side of the business, which were invested back into the property to improve the buildings and fencing.

Braman says the site was selected for its semi-arid climate, which is considered an ideal environment for a landfill, because there is less opportunity for leaching into groundwater. As well, a leachate collection system on top of the synthetic liner planned for under the landfill will collect runoff and recycle it on top of the garbage to keep dust down. The GVRD will also install a methane collection system that will contain the methane created in the garbage to reuse as fuel. A similar system is currently used at the Burns Bog dump to fuel greenhouses in Delta.

Braman says only small sections of the landfill will be exposed at any one time, which should help keep odors in check. As they finish using sections, they’ll be covered in topsoil, revegetated and returned to ranchland.

Garbage to fund water upgrade

Keeping a landfill in the Cache Creek/Ashcroft area will preserve 110 jobs, which equals approximately $5 million in direct wages and benefits. As well, Ashcroft, with a population of 1,800, will collect a fee of $3 per tonne of garbage. At a forecasted 500,000 tonnes per year, the village stands to generate $1.5 million a year, which it will share with Cache Creek.

“What better way of maintaining those jobs?” said Village Administrator Tom Clement. “Every local government is looking for an alternative to raising property taxes.”

Ashcroft is faced with doing some expensive sewer and water upgrades required by the Ministry of Health. It includes a new water filtration system. Clement says most municipalities need to make similar changes. Council supports the project only if it won’t harm the area. “If there are problems, it will come up during the environmental review,” Clement said.

In a show of support for the landfill, Ashcroft residents approved expanding the village’s boundaries to include Ashcroft Ranch during a referendum last year. It passed with 90 percent approval. However, those living closest to the proposed landfill, in Area I of the Thompson-Nicola Regional District, were not eligible to vote – and most of them oppose the project. This includes local First Nations bands and other neighbours who have formed the Cornwall Watershed Coalition.

Concern for well water

A hydrogeologist hired by the Cornwall Watershed Coalitions says the lifespan of the synthetic liner is 150 to 350 years at best, which is particularly alarming for the surrounding First Nations bands. Greg Blain, Chief of the Ashcroft Indian Band, is concerned that runoff from the dump will further pollute the band’s water supply. He notes that the landfill will be an eyesore that will be seen from the band office.

“They will ruin the land for the sake of Vancouver getting rid of its garbage,” said Blain who also works as a corporal at the Kamloops RCMP detachment. “It will contaminate our water more – they admit that. The same consultants said the Cache Creek dump won’t leak, but it is. Over the next 200 years this will destroy the whole area.”

He added, “For the people of Ashcroft, if it gets bad they can move. We can’t – we have title to this land.”

Blain recently took his opposition to the polls when running for mayor of Ashcroft in last month’s by-election, called after longtime mayor Andy Kormendy quit because council was unhappy with his handling of affairs with the GVRD. In short, Kormendy signed an agreement between the GVRD and the village without it going through council or to the landfill committee, of which he was a member.

Of the four candidates running to replace Kormendy, Blain was the only one opposed to the dump, and placed third with 60 votes. “I ran mostly to raise awareness about problems with having a landfill there.”

First Nations groups also oppose the landfill on the grounds that 84 archeological sites protected under the Heritage Conservation Act are in the study area. If the proposed landfill goes ahead, these sites will be disturbed and almost half will be destroyed completely.

Endangered grasslands and toads

A report submitted to the EAO by the provincial Ministry of Water, Land and Air Protection (WLAP) identifies some environmentally threatened red-listed riparian and grassland ecosystems as one of its concerns, and the removal of breeding habitat for endangered species of tiger salamanders and Great Basin Spadefoot Toads as another.

As well, the report asked a number of questions regarding the possibility of toxins from the landfill leaching into the groundwater. The single synthetic liner proposed by the GVRD to protect the ground from any leaching is the minimum requirement, said hydrogeologist Kevin Bennett at the WLAP regional office in Kamloops. He added that any long-term development would require a mandate to protect and manage groundwater, which would be tested regularly.

But Bennett added that in general, “Nobody in this office identified any environmental show stoppers.”

Responding to complaints that the Cache Creek landfill has created leachate that has escaped into the water system and fears the same could happen at the Ashcroft Ranch landfill, provincial authorities say the leaching has only been minor, and that such low quantities naturally dissipate.

Rancher would ‘be sick’

Members of the Cornwall Watershed Coalition aren’t willing to take any chances, particularly when they have such deep roots in Ashcroft, which was named by their ancestors Henry and Clement Cornwall, who established what was once called Cornwall Ranch in 1862, where they served meals at Ashcroft Manor house to miners headed through the Cariboo to Barkerville during the gold rush.

Clement Cornwall served as Lieutenant-Governor of BC in 1885, and when the CPR built a station near the ranch in 1886, they named the surrounding village Ashcroft, which was the name of the Cornwall estate in England.

Margot Landels, great-granddaughter of Henry Cornwall, grew up in the old manor house and is a founding member of the Cornwall Watershed Coalition.

“My mother was a Cornwall and I have an emotional attachment to the ranch, but even if there was no connection to it we’d be horrified,” she said. “The thought of the desecration to the environment and the heritage is offensive. I don’t understand what people downriver in Ashcroft are thinking. For a few jobs and a few tax dollars they’d sell their souls.”

In 1946, the Cornwalls sold the family homestead, with the exception of the manor house, to a neighbouring rancher, Alan Cameron. Cameron’s daughter Mary Grimwood is appalled by the landfill proposed for her father’s beloved ranch, which he sold to BC Hydro in 1977 when he retired. Grimwood and her family make annual trips up to the ranch. Three years ago, they spread her father’s ashes on the lush farmland he loved so much.

From her home in Tsawwassen, Grimwood says her father would “be sick” if he know about the landfill planned for his ranch. “That was my dad’s pride. He loved the land. All he wanted to do his whole life was be a rancher. He had other businesses, like a motel, but it was always to support the ranch.”

Grimwood wants to GVRD to explore alternatives to creating a new landfill. “I feel strongly that we are not doing enough for recycling.”

Targeting manufacturers of waste

Both the Society Promoting Environmental Conservation (SPEC) and the David Suzuki Foundation agree that not enough is being done to reduce solid waste and are opposed to creating a new landfull. Ivan Bulic, Coordinator of SPEC, wants to see the GVRD crack down on solid waste.

“To be fair, the GVRD is doing as good a job as any municipality in trying to educate the public in reducing solid waste,” Bulic said. “But we’re investing in business as usual to truck garbage away so we don’t see it instead of dealing with the problem. We have an opportunity now, rather than investing another 100 years in this system, to come up with some creative solutions.”

Bulic added that most solid waste is packaging, organic waste and electronic equipment. He complains that the GVRD does not have a central composting program. “Instead we’re paying to ship valuable compost material to a landfill.”

He suggests implementing a producer responsibility program, whereby the producer of electronic items would be responsible for taking back the equipment for recycling, instead of the taxpayers bearing the burden.

‘Release valves’

At the David Suzuki Foundation, Ann Rowan seconds a call for such a program, complaining that commercial packaging is an increasing problem. She urges looking “beyond the blue box” at other waste reduction and recycling initiatives.

“Our basic criticism is that landfills are release valves,” Rowan said. “There is no indicator to most residents or businesses that there is a problem with how much waste is being produced. We’re simply moving the problem out further.”

While recycling programs for paper products, glass and metals have taken off over the past 20 years to help reduce solid waste, Coquitlam Mayor Jon Kingsbury says that if more people were vigilant about recycling just those materials, solid waste would be reduce by at least 30 percent. Kingsbury, also Chair of the GVRD Waste Management Committee, added the region is proposing the Ashcroft landfill as a last resort, and that the GVRD is budgeting “a significant amount of money” for exploring alternative technological means for disposing of solid waste.

“We keep saying reduce, reduce,” Kingsbury said. “This is a backup. It would be nice not to use it at all.”

Final hurdles

A lengthy public consultation term ended on October 15, and the GVRD has until November 12 to respond to concerns raised by the public and government officials. After then, the Environmental Assessment Office will complete its large-scale assessment that includes the issues. Once an Environmental Assessment Certificate is issued, provincial ministry staff will review its findings before making a final recommendation to the ministers for WLAP, Small Business and Economic Development, and Community, Aboriginal and Women’s Services. The GVRD expects to learn the results of this by mid-February.

Kingsbury says if the landfill is not approved, the GVRD will have to look at alternatives, such as a new incinerator.

More information is available online about the Aschcroft Ranch and the Ashcroft Ranch Landfill Project.

Brenda Jones is a Vancouver journalist and frequent contributor to The Tyee.  [Tyee]

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