Candidates position themselves for biosolids facility fight

Waterloo Region Record

CAMBRIDGE — The feeling of Cambridge residents on a proposed biosolids plant here can perhaps be summed up succinctly by John Florence, a candidate for a regional seat representing the city.

“You’ve heard that old quote ‘waste not, want not,'” he said. “My opinion is biowaste, not want.”

A plan for a biosolids heat-drying facility at the Savage Drive Waste Management Centre in Cambridge was put off in 2013 after residents and politicians raged over the proposal.

Questions were raised about odour and traffic, and residents were frustrated about a perceived lack of public consultation.

Biosolids are what’s left after sewage is treated. The Region of Waterloo produces the equivalent of about 18 Olympic-sized pools of the stuff every month.

A plan for biosolids is expected to be back before regional councillors in early 2015.

For the most part, candidates seeking two seats on regional council in the Oct. 27 election won’t be raising their hands and asking that biosolids be shipped to Cambridge.

“If it comes back, (residents are) going to feel like now the election’s over, they’re going to bring it back,” said candidate Kurt Ditner.

Ditner said residents were soured on the idea after the first go-round.

Residents said they weren’t consulted and worried about heavy trucks hauling the sludge into their city. There were issues with mail-outs to inform residents of the plan and information nights.

Residents turned out in droves at a public open house after Cambridge was chosen as the preferred site.

Karl Kiefer said insufficient public consultation was a major contributor to Cambridge residents rallying against the proposal. He said residents don’t want the plant.

“I hope to be able to do something about it,” Kiefer said. “I would only be one vote but it’s got to be communicated … It’s no secret the communication flow between the City of Cambridge and the Region of Waterloo needs to be improved.”

Regional staff was asked to have another look at a biosolids master plan that recommended the heat-drying facility that would turn the cakelike material into pellets for fertilizer, soil additives or biofuel.

They were also asked to review the best location for the facility.

Candidate Helen Jowett would like the site selection options to be expanded beyond regionally owned land. She also would want to ensure the water table isn’t impacted.

“There are a lot of new ideas out there when it comes to biosolids and the new knowledge also brings new compliance which is better protection so I don’t believe that it’s a bad idea,” Jowett said.

Candidate Ron Koenderink said he’s in favour of dealing with all waste locally, but he’ll take his cue from the community.

“I’m not going to definitively state one way or the other where I want it and how I want it because my whole platform is based on co-operation and consensus with the municipalities and the townships to come to agreements, rather than override and overrule and stomp on one another,” he said.

Cambridge had been chosen in part because Waterloo residents protested the idea of putting the plant at the Erb Street landfill, staff said at the time.

It’s costing taxpayers about $4.7 million this year to truck biosolids out of town to be placed in landfill and spread on farmers’ fields in neighbouring municipalities.

The region’s plan was expected to cost about $60 million for construction, plus about $20 million in financing. An additional $150 million would have been spent operating and maintaining the site for 25 years. , Twitter: @DesmondRecord