Foul odours wafting from the Ladysmith public works yard have close to 200 residents in a foul mood.
But, despite a clear recognition from the Town of Ladysmith that people have a right to be upset, it could be some time before they can stop holding their noses.
According to Mayor Aaron Stone, staff is preparing a report on the situation expected to be filed in time for a September meeting of council. What options that report might reveal and what action council may take will wait until it is presented, but Stone believes there is already a consensus amongst elected officials that the situation needs to change.
“We have already started discussions and I think there seems to be agreement that that’s not the right place for it,” he said.
As of late August, 185 people had signed an online petition asking the town to move its biosolids composting operation from the Sixth Avenue works yard to a location where it would not have the same sort of impact on the neighbourhood.
Although composting has occurred on the site in various forms for about 20 years, a combination of recent weather conditions and a high volume of people on the nearby Holland Creek Trail has exacerbated the number of complaints every time fresh biosolids from the town’s waste treatment plant arrive. The amplified concerns are being expressed primarily on social media through public Facebook forums.
“Every beautiful summer evening we’ve had lately has smelled like rotting flesh,’ Marci Purdon said in one such post. “How do you explain that to your dinner guests?”
“I was at a friend’s today across from the town yard on Sixth tonight. I understand the people’s complaints,” Tim Solloway echoed. “I have never smelled anything that bad even at the old dumps. This is a disgrace. I feel for you all who have to breath this in.”
Both city manager Guillermo Ferrero and infrastructure director Geoff Goodall are brand new to the community and to this issue. But Ferrero said they are well aware it is real and are actively investigating ways to correct the situation.
At this point he believes there is a long-term solution available, but he’s not sure whether that solution can be fast-tracked, or if the issues can be mitigated in the meantime.
“I can guarantee we are looking at everything with fresh eyes,” he said. “We do recognize there is a smell.”
Instead of pumping it out into the harbour, the town composts its treated biosolid sludge into high-grade topsoil over a period of several months, then uses it for a variety of city planting projects. About 800 tonnes of sludge is processed annually, with the smell being strongest when it is freshly added.
Ferraro said the current planned solution is a new building at the site designed to enclose the composting operation and, with it, the smell. Council approved the project last summer and received a federal grant of $570,000 to help pay for its construction.
In February, council agreed to hire Transform Compost Systems to oversee construction, however it has yet to get underway due to other town priorities and the recent turnover in senior staff. Council’s original resolution called for a June 30, 2017 completion. Given the current situation, Ferrero said it remains unlikely work will begin prior to 2017.
He and Goodall are taking a second look at how effective the building will be in reducing the smell, the financial advantages gained by continued in-house composting, and the appropriateness of continuing operations on Sixth.
Ultimately, he wants to be able to give council enough information in order to best balance the needs of the neighbourhood with the overall benefit to the taxpayer.
“I still don’t have an answer to that question. There are so many variables. We are trying to weigh what the best one is,” he said. “The reality is everything can be fixed with money.”
He acknowledged the public works department is looking at alternate site possibilities as part of the ongoing review but cautioned that terms of the grant may preclude the processing building from being built elsewhere. That said, council has ordered a building that can be moved in the event of another site being secured.
“It always was supposed to be a temporary site,” he said.
Both Stone and Ferrero declined to comment on potential alternate sites because of concerns about prejudicing any future negotiations tied to those sites.
“My hope would be to rise and report as quickly as we can,” Stone said.