Every cloud has a silver lining.
For Pitt Meadows, it might be turning the ditch goop – wet, organic slurry it uses to widen and strengthen local dikes – into hard cash, while reducing the household and industrial trash this mix contains.
Until now, TVs, tires, plastic barrels, industrial and household garbage wantonly discarded by drive-by polluters have been sunk into the dike along with the good stuff.
The garbage came as a surprise for council.
“This is inappropriate,” remarked Mayor Deb Walters on June 9, when I showed pictures of trash in watery holes that resembled quicksand.
“It looks unsafe to me for kids playing around here,” Coun. Tracy Miyashita said of the cells.
Coun. Bruce Bell thought so, too.
“If my dog fell into one of those holes, I’d jump in right after it,” remarked Coun. Gwen O’Connell.
What pet lover wouldn’t?
Some wouldn’t come out.
On June 16, Public works supervisor Randy Evans told council: “We have to warn people of the fill site.”
He’d “review the fencing to make it safer. “Perhaps we could consider steel fencing and panels.”
It won’t happen. Evans will erect a gate at one end of the cells, where trucks dump their loads. It will be closed at the end of work. But steel fences would cost $22,000.
“That’s not in the budget,” said Walters.
‘Red’ snow fencing, advised operations director Kim Grout, was sufficient warning of danger.
She thought vandals would probably push over the steel fence, anyhow.
Response to the garbage problem was more positive.
“We can do a better job of keeping that material out of there,” said Evans. “We have to get there more often to get that stuff out.”
He’s instructed his staff to make it a priority.
But, back to the goop, a story that started out across the horizon like an ominous dark cloud with news from Evans that Neaves Road dike east – the last of four locations the city could use as fill sites, will soon be at capacity. It has, in fact, only five years left.
West Neaves Road dike, which the city began to fill 15 years ago, is already full.
I shudder to think what might be buried there.
News of this vanishing timeline, presented to council July 16 by Evans, was greeted with surprise.
“After the fourth site is full,” asked Walters, “ what’s next?”
Trucking it elsewhere, explained Evans, would cost $100-$125 a box, or up to $300,000 yearly.
But, that wouldn’t work, anyhow.
“It’s difficult to find a site for the fill product,” he explained. “It’s too soft for building on top of and in most other places [outside the city], organic stuff isn’t accepted.”
It has to stay in Pitt Meadows.
There is an expectation that cities everywhere in Canada will dispose of their organic material within their boundaries. This is where the clouds separate, thanks to question period in council.
“The fill is mostly organic material,” noted local resident Mike Stark, who sits on the agricultural committee. “Can it be composted and sold?”
The answer is, yes. The Compost Council of Canada, a non-profit that encourages municipalities to compost for environmental sustainability while making extra cash. Many do.
Organic matter is now considered a resource. The humus-like product can be used in agriculture, horticulture, landscaping, and home gardening.
Coun. Bell thinks composting ditch slurry should be broached with staff.
“We haven’t gone down that road yet,” he told me. But,“there might be a business opportunity here. We could give it away, take it to the garden centre, or sell it as compost.”
Questions would have to be asked, said Bell. “Where would you put it? Where could trucks come in and dump the slop. We’d need some money to build holding areas.”
Five years isn’t a long lead time for planning. One wonders why the subject wasn’t discussed and investigated before now.
Did previous councils know Neaves Road was a fill site, the last of four? Was a timeline discussed with staff and passed along to the current council?
Did anyone bring up appropriate safety measures – ones that could fit the budget, while reassure safety better than flimsy red snow fences? Could folks have brainstormed cost-shaving alternate measures?
You hear, ‘we need to trust staff.’
I agree. But in that approach, another idea often sinks from sight like a stone in a bottomless cell. It’s the idea of accountability. Folks voted into office should set and monitor policies, which then guide staff practices – especially on issues such as environmental sustainability, public safety, how to spend money.
The public expects it.
What was it U.S. President Harry Truman said?
“The buck stops here.”
It should. Especially if it’s the taxpayer’s dollar.
Jack Emberly is a retired teacher, local author and environmentalist.