Sunday, April 09, 2006

Don't Rush to Condemn Dump, Ottawa Warned

The City of Ottawa's legal department is advising councillors to keep an open mind toward a company's plans to expand the Carp Road landfill or risk legal action.

In a memo to elected officials before their upcoming debate on the landfill project, city lawyer Rick O'Connor says councillors and the mayor need to wait until all the evidence is in before deeming Waste Management's plan for the dump as unsound.

Council is scheduled to consider next Thursday a motion calling on the company to drastically change its plans.

Mr. O'Connor says that contrary to some claims, council isn't legally obliged to support the expansion under a 2001 agreement with Waste Management.

But the lawyer says Mayor Bob Chiarelli and the councillors can oppose the landfill's expansion, only if they deem it to be environmentally unsound or contrary to planning principles.

And to reach that judgment they must wait until all the evidence is in, otherwise they "may invite a legal challenge that councillors were 'biased' and of 'closed mind' on the matter," the memo says.

Whether the dump expands or not is largely up to Ontario's Ministry of the Environment. Waste Management is in the midst of the ministry's assessment process in seeking expansion approval. It could take years before a decision is made. Residents in the area of the landfill, which the company proposes to triple in size, want the expansion stopped.

"It is only after the completion of the environmental assessment that a determination can be made as to whether an 'environmentally sound proposal' has been made," says Mr. O'Connor in his memo. "Such a conclusion could not, in my opinion, be drawn in advance."

At least one councillor agreed with Mr. O'Connor's opinion. Rick Chiarelli said yesterday the city lawyer's warning for politicians not to jump to any conclusions on the dump issue needs to be taken seriously.

"We can't be biased or we could face legal action, and that will be costly to taxpayers," he says. "Council has a responsibility to provide a fair hearing to the owner of the dump, who has every right to make an application to expand."

Mr. O'Connor's briefing to councillors and the mayor comes days before they discuss a motion prepared by Mayor Chiarelli and councillors Janet Stavinga, Eli El-Chantiry and Peggy Feltmate. The motion refers to the company's plans as "limited in scope, unclear, imprecise, deficient" and in need of drastic change.

The politicians want the company look at other sites and technologies for dealing with waste, better consultation on all aspects of the plan, written assurance that no waste from southern Ontario will be tossed in any potential landfill, an independent review of the company's present or future plan, and a facilitator to ensure negotiations go smoothly. The motion will be debated at a special council meeting Thursday.

Councillor Chiarelli said he supports all efforts to find alternative ways of dealing with garbage such as new technologies and recycling, but as long as garbage is produced by residents it needs to go somewhere. He said if Waste Management's proposal is deemed environmentally sound by the ministry, he will support it.

Waste Management spokesman Wayne French has said repeatedly that no garbage from southern Ontario will be allowed in the landfill, which currently receives a third of Ottawa's residential waste. He says the company objects to the allegations that its plan is deficient, and that the company is open to any suggestions.

"We are very, very early in this process, and we are willing to look at all options," he says. "The city and public have to tell us what they want. Everything will be looked at -- recycling, incineration, organic composting, everything. It has to be safe and environmentally sound. We want the same things. We're not in a fight here."


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