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CRD to continue trashing biosolids despite $100K per-month price tag

Treated sewage could still be headed up-Island as board votes against spreading it within CRD
Biosolids will continue to be trashed at Hartland landfill as various plans fall through for the CRD. (Facebook/Capital Regional District)

Treated sewage will continue to be trashed in Greater Victoria’s landfill at least in the near term as the region has once again rejected spreading a soil mixture including biosolids on local lands – a decision contributing to the region paying hundreds of thousands in fees.

A series of operating issues at the Hartland landfill and at a mainland facility that takes the treated sewage-derived biosolids, plus months of back and forth on an emergency backup plan for the pellet-like substances, led up to the Capital Regional District board meeting on Wednesday (July 12).

It was there that directors spent hours trying to come up with a short-term contingency option for managing biosolids that would see the region be in compliance with provincial direction.

The CRD has been burying biosolids as if they’re garbage after exhausting another part of Hartland Landfill that can take biosolids growing medium (BGM) – a soil substance made from mixing the treated sewage with things like wood waste and other products. However, B.C. is against landfilling biosolids and requires communities to have a beneficial use for them.

The region’s primary strategy is sending biosolids to a Lafarge cement plant in Richmond where they’re used as a fuel alternative, but no biosolids have made it there this year. While in recent months the facility wasn’t taking biosolids due to issues with its equipment, staff said those issues have been resolved.

However, the region is still not sending biosolids across the strait as the CRD’s Residual Treatment Facility at Hartland is now facing issues getting them to the required grain size.

Landfilling biosolids is costing the CRD around $100,000 more every month than what it would cost to send them to Lafarge’s cement facility. A staff report said the CRD has already blown past its 2023 budget for biosolids disposal at Hartland. Without a contingency plan, the CRD estimates it could spend an additional $1,865,000 to continue landfilling biosolids or spreading BGM at Hartland for the rest of 2023.

The board on Wednesday ultimately voted to clarify that a February decision it made – allowing non-agricultural land application of biosolids – did not include spreading the substances on lands within the Capital Region. That continues to open the door for the CRD to send its biosolids to be used at a Cassidy mine reclamation project until it can send them to the Richmond Lafarge plant.

Staff said it can move forward with the Cassidy plan fairly soon and that sending the substances to Richmond could happen within weeks. But with the CRD being against land application within its borders, some directors noted it’s openly hypocritical of the board to allow sending them to be used for that purpose elsewhere, and that has invited criticism.

“We have difficulty understanding the current approach of the CRD to prevent land application of biosolids within your region while shipping it to another region for the same use,” Regional District of Nanaimo chair Vanessa Craig wrote in a May letter to the CRD.

The board also turned down an attempt to preclude the Nanaimo area from places that could receive the South Island’s treated sewage. Directors constantly sought clarification as many of their actions Wednesday seemed contradictory, and at one point the board voted against seeking out-of-region non-agricultural land application options.

That decision led the board back to a staff recommendation, from months ago, to explore in-region land application options – though those too could take half a year to implement. Senior government regulators have said the CRD’s biosolid quality makes them safe to spread on the land, but numerous directors reaffirmed concerns over perceived unknowns around the impact on the environment and human health.

Local coalitions of groups from various sectors have long railed against land application in the CRD.

The board passed a recommendation, made by directors at the committee level, that the CRD expedite work on a planned thermal processing pilot. Permitting that pilot is still years away despite that expedited effort, according to a timeline staff outlined last month.

A report on the long-term biosolids management process is expected in the coming weeks and that update will include the potential for using thermal technologies.

READ: CRD won’t spread biosolids locally but could still ship them to Nanaimo area

Jake Romphf

About the Author: Jake Romphf

In early 2021, I made the move from the Great Lakes to Greater Victoria with the aim of experiencing more of the country I report on.
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