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Woolwich gains some time to save Elmira transfer station

transfer station

Facing the closure this month of the Elmira waste transfer station, Woolwich will have another five months to bring on a private operator as the region appears ready to extend a lifeline one last time.

Regional council’s planning and works committee voted this week to keep operating the facility until the end of May.

There will be no more reprieves, Mayor Sandy Shantz reported to her Woolwich colleagues meeting Tuesday night.

Where Waterloo Region had planned to mothball the waste stations in all of the rural townships by December 31, Woolwich will now have a chance to find an alternative to keep the much-used facility open on a permanent basis.

Chief administrative officer David Brenneman has been in contact with five potential operators, all pre-screened by the region as qualified candidates, to determine if there’s a way to see the facility turned over to a private business.

While regional staff had been charged earlier this year with carrying out that task, when September rolled around little had been done. The region then tossed the ball back in Woolwich’s court, essentially giving the township just a couple of months to do something before pulling the plug.

Now, the township should have some breathing room.

Not overly optimistic at the start of the process, Brenneman said the region now appears open to finding a private sector solution to keeping the transfer station open.

While not keen on having the transfer station remain open even in private hands – it maintains curbside collection is all that’s needed in the townships – the region is looking at the option, he said.

The region has drastically cut service levels – the facility is now open just two days a month, down from almost daily – and planned to close all four rural stations last year before extension into March and then the end of December.

Sale of the land would be necessary as the region is constrained by union agreements against leasing out the facility to a private operator, nor does it want to maintain responsibility for future upgrade costs.

Projected long-term capital expenditures of more than $7 million were part of the rationale for regional council’s decision earlier this year to close all four transfer stations in the rural townships. For the Elmira facility, such costs were estimated at $2.3 million over the next decade.

Also, the region doesn’t want to jeopardize the waste stream, as there’s a chance a private operator would take the material elsewhere to avoid the region’s high tipping fees at the Erb Street landfill site.

On the operations side, the stations represent 10 per cent of the waste management department’s costs in the area, but just one per cent of the volume of waste and three per cent of revenues. In that light, regional council decided 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.

Recognizing the costs at play, Brenneman said fees at the transfer station might have to rise under a private operator. Likewise, the business would have to increase the amount of waste it handles, perhaps taking in industrial, commercial and institutional waste from a wider geographic area.

With the reprieve, Woolwich can now explore the options, with a bit more time to work on a potential hand-over, says Brenneman.

Timing is a key issue, as the private companies that have expressed an interest in taking over the facility have stressed the need to keep the site in operation during the transition stage, which could take a considerable amount of time. Along with the time the region would need to clear the way for something like the sale of the land, the new operator would also face regulatory hurdles from the provincial Ministry of the Environment.

In closing the Elmira station, the region will have to turn over the property to the township – a 1991 agreement in which the region took over the facility says the property reverts to Woolwich should operations cease. But ownership doesn’t come with any of the licenses and clearances to run a transfer station, however.

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