There are no signs that Whistler’s closed landfill site is having any negative impact on the local environment, according to a municipal report seen in Tuesday’s (Jan. 8) council meeting.
The 10-acre Whistler landfill was closed in 2006 after 28 years of usage to make way for the new Cheakamus Crossing neighbourhood. Approximately 350,000 tonnes of waste were disposed at the site during its operational years. Its closure was monitored by B.C.’s Ministry of Environment, which identified ongoing environmental monitoring and maintenance procedures for the municipality to follow at the time.
Part of the monitoring and maintenance process set out by the province includes the collection and removal of water that passes through waste in the closed landfill.
“When water passes through the waste in the landfill it gets contaminated to a greater or lesser extent and that contaminated water we refer to as leachate,” said James Hallisey, the municipal manager of transportation and solid waste. “Leachate collection is a big part of protecting the environment from the landfill.”
When the landfill was closed, a large plastic cover was placed over the surface of the landfill in order to reduce the amount of water that percolates into the landfill’s waste, explained Hallisey.
To ensure leachate collection is working properly, municipal staff test ground and surface water using several different parameters.
“In the several years we’ve been looking at this, it’s not warranted any further action,” said Hallisey.
Leachate amounts are also expected to decrease over time as the plastic cover reduces moisture levels in the landfill’s waste.
Another essential component to the RMOW’s landfill monitoring is the collection and flaring of dangerous greenhouse gases (GHG) like methane.
“The landfill is a significant generator of this methane. By collecting and flaring it, it’s actually the single biggest greenhouse gas reduction project in Whistler to date,” said Hallisey.
This monitoring and collection procedure serves two purposes: to prevent gas migration away from the landfill site and to reduce GHG emissions.
Flaring was not required by the province at the time the landfill was closed but was carried out by the community nonetheless.
“This is all about safety and sustainability,” said Mayor Nancy Wilhelm-Morden, who was serving as a councillor at the time of the landfill’s closure. “We took some of these steps when the landfill was closed in 2006 that went above and beyond what the Ministry of Environment wanted us to do because it was the right thing to do.”
Staff has never recorded a positive sample for landfill gas since the site was closed. The consistently positive reports resulted in the province reducing the monitoring frequency required for the presence of certain substances, ultimately cutting down on the muni’s water-testing costs.
“We keep our safety standards up but we save ourselves a little bit of money in the meantime,” said Wilhelm-Morden.
The RMOW will continue its ongoing monitoring of the landfill site, which costs approximately $100,000 per year, to ensure safety standards are being met.
Hallisey said he expects the RMOW will have to continue monitoring the landfill for the next 25 years, although each landfill is different due to its unique waste composition.