EDITORIAL: U.S. garbage option needed

Where Metro Vancouver will send the bulk of its garbage in two years time is not a new problem.

For the last decade it’s been known the Cache Creek Regional Landfill would be filled by 2010 and a new trash solution would have to take over.

How, then, has this predictable situation turned into such bureaucratic confusion?

Landfills aren’t popular with the neighbours. Even if they run perfectly and don’t leak and contaminate local water, they bring truck traffic, odours and eyesore –

In the case of the Interior, where Metro Vancouver first wanted to expand the Cache Creek dump and then embarked on a $10-million multi-year effort to build a new regional landfill near Ashcroft, First Nations saw it as both an environmental threat and an infringement on their aboriginal title to their territory.

The province, newly sensitive to native concerns, halted the environmental assessment, freezing the project and ultimately leading Metro to abandon it.

Since then local mayors in the Cache Creek area have campaigned to save the local landfill business and the jobs it supports. They have some – but not all – native leaders on side.

Options include a fresh drive to expand Cache Creek and the more promising proposal by Highland Valley Copper to build a new regional landfill at its mine site near Logan Lake.

Neither yet has an elusive environmental permit or unified native backing.

Metro Vancouver’s frustration is understandable.

Does the Interior want our waste or not? Or is this all part of a bargaining process to see how big a price can be extracted from Lower Mainland taxpayers?

Metro directors have rightly concluded they can wait no longer and want the option to export garbage to the U.S., likely via train to Rabanco’s landfill in southern Washington.

The province, however, continues to act as puppet master as it so often does in local affairs. It wants to review and see justification for Metro’s logic. (Never mind that Whistler already sends its garbage to Rabanco.)

It should be noted that exporting to the U.S. is not a first choice, nor is it anticipated to be a long-term solution.

Metro intends to spend hundreds of millions of dollars building new waste-to-energy plants in the region, in concert with much more aggressive steps to recycle more and cut the waste stream.

If building landfills in the sparsely populated Interior was a challenge, there will surely be fierce opposition and big hurdles to building modern incinerators or even food composting plants within the Lower Mainland.

Metro wants the new plants in place by 2015. That may be optimistic. Advanced waste-to-energy technologies sound promising but are largely unproven.

What isn’t needed is a rush job that leaves the region with tremendous bills for plants that pollute more than anticipated and have huge, permanent appetites for garbage, possibly undermining progress on the recycling front.

Shipping to the U.S. gives the region time to try to get this right.

More delay in approving it will only push Metro Vancouver further against the ropes and leave it more vulnerable to being shaken down at the last minute by whatever landfill operator emerges as the only salvation.

This region needs the green light to send its trash south.

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