Councillors pause on Maple Lake landfill redevelopment

By Sue Tifin

Algonquin Highlands council supports a future reconfiguration and redevelopment of Maple Lake landfill which could cost almost $1 million, but opted at its Oct. 1 meeting to hold off on getting started on the major project until further discussions on the township’s projects and priorities and asset management plan are held.

Adam Thorn, operation manager, outlined the proposed Maple Lake landfill site operations centre redevelopment project to council during the regular meeting of council, held virtually.
Algonquin Highlands currently operates five waste disposal sites, and in 2015 converted the Dorset landfill, at the end of its capacity, to a transfer station, while choosing this past summer to close the Hawk Lake landfill in 2021 at the end of its operational life.
“The next step for us is the Maple site,” said Thorn.

The 40 hectare site off of McPhail Road has an approved waste disposal area of 3.0 acres, and approximately 70 years left in it, and Thorn said in his report that “a relocation of the site operations centre off of the waste mound was a component of the Maple Lake site plan at the time of the expansion approval attained in 2011.”
A report from Cambrium Inc. said the two primary reasons for this were: “the final shape of the landfill will be too steep and prone to deferential settlement to accommodate the operational needs of the site,” and “the relocating of the operational components of the site (the operations centre) off the waste mound gives the centre a permanent location that will not need to be moved as landfilling progresses.”

In Thorn’s report, a detailed needs assessment of the existing site by staff with assistance by Cambrium notes numerous challenges and opportunities at the site, including that traffic flow is poor causing bottlenecks, expected to get busier with additional users after the closure of the Hawk Lake site; sightlines are poor for attendants to monitor collection areas at the site and incoming traffic; expansion of the existing recycling area would require a redevelopment; increasing traffic volumes cannot be handled with the current configuration; bin collection can’t be accommodated with the current configuration; and there is limited capacity for future development and changes.

The proposed new operations centre would allow for better efficiency for both site users and staff.
“So the layout of the site itself isn’t great, it’s not efficient for site users or for staff that have to continually move around on the site,” Thorn told council. “So over the last couple of years we’ve spent quite a few hours in that landfill building walls and creating spots to help make a better flow, a more efficient flow if you will, and slowly we’ve been [filling] up the area with waste. What we’re proposing here is to move off of the mound. Sometime within the span of that 70 years we’re going to have to do that.”
A weigh scale was recommended to “allow for more consistent assessment of incoming materials, significant improvements to quantify landfill usage, and the ability to better track the results of waste diversion and reduction efforts,” with Thorn noting the municipality was “losing out on that material coming in, that it’s actually costing us much more to send that material out than what we’re actually getting in.”

Thorn’s report said the project is a “one-time move/change for long-term value” and that a big change rather than a series of small changes was the best option. Three possible scenarios were presented to council, the first with a project start of 2020 and expected completion in 2021 at a cost of $960,000; the second with a project start this year, with site open to traffic in 2020 and project completion in 2023 at a cost of $985,000; and the third being ongoing site alterations with an operations area located on the waste mound, with staff recommending the first option.

“We’re proposing that we do that definitely sooner than later,” said Thorn. “By doing that we would create this operation centre off the mound but still within township property, that would create a site that we would not have to go into and redesign down the road. We’re not building this operation centre for tomorrow, or for next month, or for next year, we’re building it for the life of that site and beyond.”

Thorn said the site has seen as many as 355 cars a day, and a more efficient flow to the site would get traffic in an out quickly.
“At the end of the day we’re always going to be bringing material to a landfill,” he said. “We want to get rid of that dump feeling, right? Everybody thinks of these sites as dumps because that’s what they were. We want to get away from that and start showing community site users that these are landfill sites, these are operation centres, these are clean, welcoming areas for people to do the right thing when they get inside the gate, that they can go to these areas and be designed a certain way that creates efficient flow.”

Mayor Carol Moffatt said the intention to set something up like what Thorn was proposing had always been there, but noted the cost was “a big bite.”
“A million dollars in the world is not a lot of money but it’s a lot of money for us,” she said.

Councillor Lisa Barry said she supported the project in principle, but wanted to read the entire asset management plan before making a financial decision. Councillor Jennifer Dailloux agreed with Barry, saying she was “leery to support anything before the projects and priorities conversation, and see how it would fit into our budget.”
“I wonder what the scope is for thinking about our green responsibilities and our desire to reduce landfill and our recyclables,” she said. “If there’s a way of exemplifying that or manifesting that attention through this design, so that the traffic, the way that you flow through the site is encouraging you to recycle more and to dump less.”

Dailloux noted she didn’t need a response on that today, but said “It’s one of those overarching thoughts – this could be a real opportunity for us to look for ways to encourage best behaviour.”

Moffatt agreed, saying “For years, I said just because it’s a dump it doesn’t mean it has to be dirty, and over time, it’s remarkably improved in that regard, this will take it to the next step for sure.”

Council discussed funding opportunities, including using leftover modernization funding, or potentially provincial Green Screen funding or COVID-19 funding toward capital projects, if allowed.
“I just can’t see this expenditure all in one big whack, it’s just so much money,” said Deputy Mayor Liz Danielsen, who supported scenario 2 but was considering timing prior to the projects and priorities discussion. “Before I would agree to using modernization funding, I guess I’d like to see where we are with the modernization fund, how much has been spent, how much we have left.”

Moffatt said she wanted to ensure spending the modernization funding wouldn’t be at the cost of another project that hadn’t been implemented yet.
“The sooner we can get moving on this project definitely, the sooner it gets put in place and the sooner we can start recouping on the money we’re losing on the [construction and demolition materials] that goes out every year,” said Thorn, noting that the township took 90 cubic yards of C&D waste the day prior.

To recoup that money, Thorn said the scale was “definitely the way to go,” but that “trying to put the scale on the current site is throwing money out the window.”
He suggested much of the funding could possibly come from the landfill reserve, with modernization funding offsetting those costs, keeping in mind the township would also need to ensure there is money to cover the closure of the Hawk Lake landfill, with approximately $50,000 currently in the reserve for the closure, which is estimated to cost $250,000. He recommended looking at the reserves and shuffling money around to complete the Maple Lake landfill project.

“My thoughts to it is, it’s either we spend it now or we wait a couple of years and then this project just gained 15 per cent due to waiting, because we’ve already seen cost go up with the border being closed and things of that nature,” said Thorn. “If it’s a reserve-funded project I personally think it’s easier to do that now than later, but at the end of the day it’s this group’s decision.”
“Now doesn’t necessarily mean today,” Moffatt said, asking councillors if they would be satisfied with further details, “to know that you’re looking at all the buttons before you press one.”

Moving forward, Moffatt asked for clarification on the Green Screen intake with the provincial government, a look at the financial plan for other projects being considered, and for more details to be brought back to the table for the projects and priorities discussion, about a month away.
Moffatt thanked Thorn and staff who were involved in the work in putting together the proposal.
“It’s about moving ahead and taking the community where it needs to be for the future,” said Moffatt.