CSRD, environment ministry at odds over compliance issues at regional landfills, including Revelstoke

A B.C. environment ministry representative presented to the CSRD board on Aug. 20 in a discussion about compliance issues at landfills in the regional district, including Revelstoke's landfill.

An electric fence at the Revelstoke Landfill. Photo: Aaron Orlando/Revelstoke Mountaineer Magazine

The Columbia Shuswap Regional District and the provincial environment ministry are locked in a struggle over compliance issues at landfills in the region, including the Revelstoke landfill.

As an indicator of how serious the issue has become, the provincial environment ministry is charging that the Columbia-Shuswap Regional District (CSRD) is out of compliance with some of its permits, and has even threatened the CSRD with million-dollar fines and jail time over the issue, albeit resulting from a multi-step compliance matrix that prescribes reminders of penalties for non-compliance.

The Revelstoke Review’s Jocelyn Doll, acting on a tip, first broke news of the dispute in this August 2019 story. Since then, the ongoing dispute over compliance to environmental and operating issues has continued, and was highlighted at the most recent CSRD board meeting on Aug. 20.

Issues at the Revelstoke landfill identified in the ministry report last year included missing planning documents, problems with litter blowing from the site, improperly covered waste, lack of landfill gas monitoring, lack of geotechincal inspection, and leachate management methods not implemented, and more.

CSRD meetings now available by video

After over a year of unsuccessful lobbying by revelstokemountaineer.com for public access to public CSRD board meetings, the board broadcast its first board meeting on August 20. This came after a provincial government order relating to COVID-19 that required regional and municipal governments provide public access to public meetings, such as through video. For background on that saga, which included calls from residents for access to the meetings, see this revelstokemountaineer.com story from July:

Opinion: Provincial order prompts CSRD to open meetings via webcast

At the Aug. 20 CSRD board meeting, Cassandra Caunce, Director for South Authorizations with the B.C. Ministry of Environment and Climate Change Strategy’s Environmental Protection Division, appeared as a delegation to discuss the ongoing compliance issues with the board of directors.

She presented an overview of how the permitting process and the separate compliance process worked, and presented a high-level overview of compliance issues in the region.

The CSRD board of directors meets at the regional government building in Salmon Arm on Aug. 20. Photo: Screen capture of CSRD board meeting video feed

Following the presentation, some board members chafed at what they felt was a heavy-handed approach by the ministry, including the threats of fines and jail time.

“Who pays the million dollar fine and who goes to jail?” asked CSRD board chairperson Kevin Flynn, a city councillor from Salmon Arm.

“It would be whoever the court decides is responsible,” replied Caunce.

CSRD staff say the ministry has been slow to approve new plans

In 2016, the provincial government updated landfill requirements, including many new regulations designed to improve the facilities and protect the environment.

Since then, the CSRD has submitted new design, operation and closure plans for many of its landfills, but the plans have yet to be approved by the environment ministry.

At the board meeting, and in a subsequent interview with revelstokemountaineer.com, Ben Van Nordstrand, the CSRD Environmental Health Services Team Leader for the CSRD who is responsible for overseeing its landfills, said the CSRD is operating the landfills based on the new plans submitted for the ministry. This results in significant changes to on-the-ground operations, such as closing off and covering sections of some landfills.

However, the environment ministry says that until the new plans are approved, the CSRD needs to stick to its approved operating permits.

During the meeting, CSRD staff and some board members complained that the environment ministry has been slow to review and approve the new plans, leaving them in limbo.

“Why would we follow old plans when we have paid thousands for the new ones?” Van Nordstrand told the Mountaineer, arguing that the new plans are in better alignment with the direction the province is heading.

“Threats of jail time and million-dollar fines kind of get me concerned,” Van Nordstrand told the board.

The plans and permitting are fairly complex, and many of the landfills date back to the 1970s. Van Nordstrand said many of the facilities date from an era when there was much less regulation, causing issues when trying to bring them up to compliance. The facility in Revelstoke was originally authorized in 1998.

At the meeting, board members and the environment ministry staff talked of scheduling another meeting to discuss the issues.

Environment ministry sabre rattling has had an effect on the ground

In his presentation to the board on Aug. 20, Van Nordstrand presented on recent improvements to landfills in the CSRD. In Revelstoke, a new contractor has been hired, litter netting was added to prevent garbage from blowing onto Westside Road, closure work has begun on the first phase of the landfill, new gas monitoring equipment has been installed, and litter collection requirements have been added to the contract.

These items were spelled out in the environment ministry’s 2019 inspection report, and the CSRD said it had responded to the issues identified by the ministry.

Could Golden garbage be trucked to Revelstoke?

Although the Revelstoke landfill has been the subject of complaints, such as about litter blowing onto the nearby road, the Golden landfill has been a hotter topic for residents there. Neighbours have campaigned for improvements or closure of the facility.

In a presentation to the Golden municipal government this week, Van Nordstrand presented a report with options for the landfill.

Among the many options was closing the facility and trucking waste to the Revelstoke landfill. However, the likelihood of that is remote.

“This has a long, long, long way to go before it would ever be put on the table,” Van Nordstrand said. The decision would require board approval if it makes it past preliminary discussion.

Part of the intent of the report seems to be to highlight the costs of various scenarios to Golden-area residents, itemizing the costs of closing the facility and reminding stakeholders other than adjacent neighbours of their stake in the matter. Currently, the landfill there is scheduled to close in 2080.

Food waste compost facility contract awarded for Revelstoke

Absolute Contracting, the Revelstoke company currently working on renovations to the exterior of Revelstoke City Hall, has just been awarded a contract to build a food waste diversion facility in Revelstoke. The CSRD hopes to have a program targeting commercial operations, such as restaurants, by the spring. Van Nordstrand said he hoped the program could be extended to include residential food waste.

Analysis: Watching our waste

As was pointed out by a CSRD board member at the meeting, waste management is the Columbia Shuswap Regional District’s biggest portfolio. The CSRD’s first meeting open to the public by video provided a window into the ongoing compliance dispute between the environment ministry and the CSRD. Although the CSRD does publish documents on its online agenda, there were two slideshow presentations at the meeting, including from the environment ministry, that were not included in the agenda package, another example of key information pertaining to CSRD governance and management that wouldn’t have been available to the public without access to their meetings. The CSRD doesn’t yet publish the meeting videos on its website, but should; it would allow residents and taxpayers who have to work during the day to access.

The 2019 ministry compliance report also found the CSRD was out of compliance on budgeting for landfill closure costs. As the holder of a landfill operating certificate, the CSRD must budget for closure costs for landfills. It found the total liability for the Revelstoke landfill is $7,637,312, yet the CSRD held $1,375,965 in a reserve fund which also covers the Salmon Arm, Golden, and Sicamous landfills. “Therefore, the CSRD is out of compliance with the requirement that the value of the closure fund meets or exceeds the estimated closure and post closure costs established in the [Design and Operations Plan],” states the ministry in its report. The CSRD said last year that it was planning to update its closure planning.

There will be more to come on this ongoing issue. Being able to access CSRD meetings via video provides needed access to discussion of this ongoing issue.

Correction: When this story was published, Ben Van Nordstrand’s name was spelled incorrectly in all instances. The story has been updated with the correct spelling.

As always, revelstokemountaineer.com welcomes comments and insights from readers, and welcomes perspectives from those with special insight into the story.

Aaron Orlando is a Revelstoke-based journalist who serves as creative director of revelstokemountaineer.com and Revelstoke Mountaineer Magazine. He's been on the news beat in Revelstoke for the past 14 years, serving in senior editorial roles. If you have aaron@revelstokemountaineer.com or call/text him at 250-814-8710.