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Rural transfer stations remain on chopping block

Curbside collection, enhanced in the townships over the last five years, should be enough to pick up the slack left when rural transfer stations are closed, Waterloo Region’s director of waste management maintains.

Introduced to compensate for a lack of curbside collection, the transfer stations are no longer sustainable as township residents receive services comparable to those in the cities, Jon Arsenault told a crowd gathered Tuesday night in Woolwich council chambers.

Admitting plans to close the stations is “not a particularly good news story,” he went over the financial figures that prompted regional council to phase out the depots by next March. He didn’t find one sympathetic ear, however, among the 75 people who attended the information session. Nor among those around the council table.

He heard an earful, with residents hoping he takes the message back to the region.

Soaring costs and falling revenues in his department forced the changes, Arsenault argued. Revenues from commercial and industrial sources, for instance, are down between $3 million and $4 million, as waste gets hauled elsewhere. The introduction of the green bin program in 2010 has created expenses in that same dollar range, but his  budget has been reduced by $2 million over the last four years.

With revenues falling, the region has turned increasingly to property tax increases to fund waste management, he explained, with a 70 per cent increase in household taxes related to waste management since 2009 alone.

In 2005, for example, the average household paid $58 a year in regional taxes to deal with garbage and recyclables. This year, that number is $143, a 12.6 per cent jump from $127 just last year.

“I still think that’s good value for what you get,” said Arsenault. “But we’re trying to stop the upward trend.”

Measures to do that include cuts to the rural transfer stations, which have been an option for at least the last three years.

Since 2009, when garbage collection was enhanced, the number of transactions at the four rural depots is down 37 per cent, with the tonnage of waste down 29 per cent (for Woolwich, those numbers are 37 and 31 per cent respectively). Usage is continuing to drop, he said.

The stations represent 10 per cent of costs, but just one per cent of the volume of waste and three per cent of revenues. In that light, the decision was made to save what amounts to $411,000 a year based on previous levels of service, or about $225,000 based on the every-other-Saturday schedule now in place.

Challenged on the relatively small amount of money, Arsenault said the bigger concern is some $7 million in upgrades to the stations that would be needed over the next decade, some $2.3 million in Elmira alone.

By closing the depots, the region won’t have to spend that money.

Coun. Bonnie Bryant, voicing a common sentiment, challenged the need for spending millions on the transfer station sites.

“I don’t see where you’d be spending $2.3 million in upgrades,” she said of the Howard Avenue facility.

“The site is starting to deteriorate,” Arsenault replied, pointing out the eventual repair or replacement of concrete walls and the attendant facility.

A long list of speakers, however, pointed out closing the Elmira station will come at a cost to residents and the environment.

Elmira resident Sandy Shantz pointed out the irony of the region promoting light rail transit and GO Train with the goal of reducing traffic, while this decision forces more people to travel to the Erb Street landfill site in Waterloo.

At the Canada Revenue Agency mileage-expense rate of $0.48 per kilometre, the extra driving associated with the 29,000 visits to Howard Avenue last year amounts to $640,000. Add in the extra time – “our time is worth something” – at the $11-per-hour minimum wage, and that cost easily becomes $1 million.

And what of the environmental cost of those 29,000 trips from Woolwich to Erb Street, asked West Montrose’s Hans Pottkamper. In his own case, that’s a trip of 30 kilometres instead of 6.5.

For Paul Panagapka of Rigarus Construction in Elmira there’s the issue of extra traffic from the townships adding to an already busy Erb Street location.

“How long is the lineup going to be?”

Add in the construction and traffic in that area and the trip could be ever more onerous, he noted.

Arsenault acknowledged the traffic issues on the west side of Waterloo, with the Boardwalk development and plans for a Costco, adding those issues are beyond his control.

Although the ultimate fate of the transfer stations, destined to close next March, rests with the region, Woolwich council plans to push for action, either a change of heart or other arrangement. In the meantime, the township is monitoring the increases in illegal dumping, volumes expected to increase with reduced hours at the Elmira depot and its eventual closure.

Director of engineering and planning Dan Kennaley said additional debris cleanup in the last couple of months has cost about $1,500.

“This is a relatively short amount of time,” he said, noting the transfer station is still open twice a month.

“We do anticipate that costs will increase. The real test will be if the transfer stations do close. We’ll see debris cleanup become a bigger job and it will be more expensive.”

The township has also seen twice the amount of garbage dropped into bins at recreation facilities, trail sites and similar municipal locations.

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