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'It Stinks Like Garbage'

Chief worries about expanding Cache Creek dump. Decisions favour Liberal donors.

By Andrew MacLeod 8 Jan 2010 | TheTyee.ca

Andrew MacLeod is The Tyee's Legislative Bureau Chief in Victoria. Reach him here.

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Environment Minister Barry Penner and Premier Gordon Campbell (photo from barrypennerisawesome.com)

Chief Robert Pasco, the chair of the Nlaka'pamux Nation Tribal Council, is clear what he thinks of the provincial government's decision to allow the expansion of the Cache Creek landfill, or dump: "I think it stinks like garbage. I think it's wrong."

Environment Minister Barry Penner and Rural Development Minister Bill Bennett announced Wednesday they have given an environmental assessment certificate to a plan that will expand the dump by 42 hectares and extend its use for 17 to 25 years. The dump, run by Belkorp Environmental Services Inc., had at one time been slated to close in 2010.

Cache Creek mayor John Ranta, who was reportedly pleased with the decision, told the Kamloops Daily News he was impressed with the speed of the province's decision, made less than six days after it came before the ministers. "To have it approved already is a surprise and a thrill," he told the paper. They could have taken up to 45 days to consider.

Pasco was less complimentary. "I don't see how they could so quickly have gone through that information and made a decision," he said in an interview. "They must be fast readers."

Penner was unavailable Thursday for an interview.

In recent months the province has played a growing role in what happens to Metro Vancouver's garbage and the dollars that come with it. Cache Creek and Belkorp appear likely to benefit from those decisions. Pasco worries the expanded dump will make life worse for the people he represents.

Big money in garbage

There's no question large amounts of money are riding on where Vancouver's garbage goes. Even the province's announcement about the environmental assessment notes that it is a $100-million project that could bring $1 million a year in royalties to local communities and $2 million a year to the province in taxes.

A 2007 Tyee story noted there were some 23 companies vying to take Vancouver's garbage.

Just because it's lucrative, doesn't make it right, said Chief Pasco. While the government's announcement said the Bonaparte Indian Band and the Ashcroft Indian Band took part in the environmental assesment and supported the project, it failed to mention that the Nlaka'pamux Nation Tribal Council is already fighting in court against plans to extend the use of the landfill.

"I don't like the idea of a landfill being placed up above me," said Pasco. "Something tells me we can't be doing things the way we used to."

The environmental assessment process looks at specific problems and ways to mitigate them but ignores how everything fits together, he said. "They don't have any way of looking at the big picture and the connectedness," he said. "This is important to indigenous people. There's a connectedness to everything."

The decision to extend the dump comes at a time when there are record low sockeye salmon returns to the Thompson River, Pasco said. "Something tells you there are things happening to that river," he said. The decline is a result of too long seeing the river "as a drain as opposed to a vein," he said.

"There are other ways to deal with things than digging a hole and hiding it."

Provincial decisions favour dump

The provincial government's decision gives Vancouver the opportunity to keep filling the dump for years to come, he said. He doesn't believe the city wants to keep shipping its garbage to the area, but the province has taken the pressure off finding an alternative, he said.

Vancouver, for its part, last year passed a motion saying it would stop sending garbage to the interior and has been seeking alternatives. It is expected to move forward a new solid waste plan next week that could see an increased reliance on burning waste and using it to create energy, a practice which raises another slew of concerns and may not win the province's approval.

And last year the province closed another option when it banned the export of garbage, saying B.C. should deal with its own waste.

The New Democratic Party's environment critic, Victoria-Swan Lake MLA Rob Fleming, said it's strange the province is banning the export of residential garbage at the same time as it's presiding over plans to import toxic waste, heavy metals and tar sands by products from Alberta for incineration at a Kootenay plant.

Fleming said the ban on garbage exports appears aimed at ensuring a supply to any new incinerators in the Lower Mainland.

It could also create a need for more capacity at Cache Creek. "It's odd that the extension is so long and the extending of the site is so great given governments seemed to prefer winding the operation down just a few short months ago," said Fleming.

It would be better to focus on minimizing the amount of waste produced, then making sure whatever garbage is left is disposed of in the most environmentally friendly way possible rather than worry about what country it goes to, he said.

Liberal donors likely to benefit

Continuing to ship waste to Cache Creek may turn out to be the cheapest option available to Vancouver, Fleming said. Eventually the city could make money selling power from incineration, but there will likely be large costs to get started.

If Cache Creek can keep Vancouver as a customer, that will benefit a company The Tyee reported yesterday has been a significant donor to the B.C. Liberal Party. Belkorp companies have given nearly $100,000 to the party since 2005, according to Elections B.C.'s donation database.

Former finance minister Gary Collins is a senior vice president at parent company Belkorp Industries Inc. and Premier Gordon Campbell's former deputy premier, Ken Dobell, is registered to lobby for the company on solid waste management, though the province's lobbyist registry does not say who he's spoken to on the subject.

Also benefitting from the status quo is Arrow Transportation Systems Inc., the Richmond-based company that trucks garbage from the Lower Mainland to Cache Creek. The company gave $91,000 to the B.C. Liberals since 2005.

Pasco said the tribal council will keep fighting the dump and when there's contamination everyone involved, including Metro Vancouver, will be held liable.

"It's a stacked deck against us but hopefully we'll get justice," he said.  [Tyee]

Read more: Health, Environment

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