We are hoping and praying that at least one town councillor in Whistler is paying close attention to the issue of composting for the community after two presentations in the past month on the subject.
The reason we are wishing somebody is asking critical questions on this topic is because there is a good chance that through thoughtful and reasoned analysis of the situation taxpayers could be saved a whole bunch of money.
Let us explain.
The first presentation we are referring to, was from a private sector company that’s business model is to create a compost product that can be used by certified organic farms. Sea to Sky Soils requested council consider diverting its municipal food waste to its Rutherford Creek facility, as their operation can provide soil for certified organic farms in Pemberton, which in turn supports the resort’s restaurants.
The second presentation was from the public sector, a.k.a. administration at municipal hall. Its response to the private company’s request was frosty to say the least, with arguments made as to why the municipal operation should not support the private operation. Staff provided advice to council based upon feedback from the operator of the compost facility it owns in Callaghan Valley.
But wait a minute. The operator is also a private sector company, Carney’s Waste Management, which runs the facility under a contract that currently sees taxpayers paying about $180,000 a month for those services, according to muni communications staff. Furthermore that company’s contract has expired and the RMOW is looking to re-tender that work in the new year.
So a company that makes money for offering a service is advising politicians against considering another company offering a similar service. I don’t know if council needs a dictionary to define what a potential conflict of interest is, but I do believe we’ve hit the nail on the head with this one.
Council cannot just take the word of administration on this issue at face value. It must push for an independent analysis of what is being proposed by Sea to Sky Soil and how that fits into the municipality’s overall operations. For a whole year this council has approved absolutely everything administration has put in front of them. That has to stop before everyone begins to wonder if the tail is wagging the dog and this issue is the opportunity to see that happen.
In addition to that is the fact that staff is preparing a report on cost savings it could achieve at the compost facility with operational and capital changes. Translation – they want to spend up to $2.6 million on improvements to the facility that already cost over $14 million to build not too long ago.
There is good rationale for the changes being proposed by staff. Because the Whistler facility is tasked with processing the entire region’s biosolids, the byproduct of the wastewater treatment plant, it has more poop than it can handle. What ends up happening during busy months is the facility is over capacity and ships truckloads of biosolids to Washington State to be landfilled — and that ain’t cheap.
Obviously it is a good idea to consider upgrades to address the costly situation, not to mention the carbon footprint it creates. However, in the meantime another private sector operator has come along and proposed a scenario whereby Whistler may not have to undergo expensive capital improvements — and that my friends could mean money stays in the bank instead.
It makes sense that if the private sector is offering a service that the public sector shouldn’t spend money to duplicate those efforts. By council taking a cautious approach to this issue and independently examining the option Sea to Sky presents, the only harm it could do at this point is delay $2.6 million worth of capital projects to 2014 if it doesn’t work out.