By Sharon McLeay Times Contributor
An air quality report presented to Wheatland County council on Nov. 2 by the Calgary Region Airshed Zone (CRAZ) disappointed residents from the Nightingale area.
Residents were looking for more concrete results to utilize in their lobby for action. The report was inconclusive for the source of the odours in the area and showed few air quality concerns within the parameters of the monitoring technology currently available.
Residents noted that other testing for health hazards in soil, air and water were biased or insufficient, and they still want more conclusive answers.
The residents in the Nightingale area have formed a group called Neighbours Against Pollution (NAP) to pressure Alberta Environment, the Minister of Environment and Wheatland County council to take action against the Green for Life (GFL) compost facility, and to clear up what they view to be infractions in the recycle-compost facility regulations.
“We formed this non-profit association because we have serious concerns with the GFL facility,” said spokesperson Betty Lou Mercer. “We feel GFL is non-compliant with Class 1 regulations and should be forced to be compliant or leave. What is the sense of having standards and regulations, if they don’t have to follow them? The regulations are not the problem. It is the people who enforce the regulations.”
Mercer gave the history of the site, referred to parts of the municipal governance guidelines for compost facilities and actions of NAP in trying to mediate a solution to the grievances the community has with the company. Mercer said soil samples taken by an agent retained by her farm showed traces of arsenic, and she felt it was from dust generated in the plant. Residents also fear contamination might be entering the water table.
The group had received update letters from Shannon Phillips, the provincial Minister of Environment and Parks, which outlined measures they addressed to GFL and with a completion date of March 2018.
Brian Hillier, GFL’s director of compliance and health and safety, said the company is working on completing those tasks by the deadline.
“I cannot speak to some of the information and pictures presented from those practices in the past,” said Hillier. “But if you take a look at the changes that have been done in the last six months, you can see there is more than has been done in the past six years.
GFL took over ownership of the plant in 2017.
Hillier listed some of the changes the company has implemented in the last six months, which include fencing, monitoring, road changes, vermin control, aeration units, pile removal and discontinuing drywall collection.
Hillier said the company wants to work with government and the residents to address issues.
“I would suggest, rather than you worrying about us seeing you coming … that you work with us and we can develop monitoring over a longer period,” said Hillier.
He was addressing a suggestion made to the county about conducting testing in manner that would not be detected by GFL staff.
He said monitoring and testing could be set up at the plant, giving the residents and council monthly readings. Hillier said the company does take readings for Alberta Environment as part of their compliance, but the company would be open to independent research. He noted factors such as topography and the heavy smoke from this summer’s forest fires could also have affected the CRAZ study. Hillier accepted that more readings would be beneficial to waylay resident fears.
Some suggestions by those in attendance were to get further monitoring and testing by an independent company or county employee, get permission for residents to tour the facility and increase pressure to take action to clean up the issue.
“I need people who I vote for, the people who work for them and government to deal with this,” said Dennis Kiemeny. “This has gone on way too long.”
Councillor Jason Wilson commented that he was onside with resident concerns and stated the CRAZ study was not helpful to him.
“I got nothing out of this,” said Wilson. “Words mean nothing without action.”
Councillor Ben Armstrong asked if similar facilities in Kneehill County and in B.C. were GFL acquistions. He said there was some indication online that there were similar problems brewing in those facilities as well. Hillier couldn’t comment specifically without more information.
GFL received an environmental award this past October from Sherwood Park and District Chamber of Commerce for its recycling and waste management work.
Council took the NAP presentation for information. Reeve Glenn Koester said they would discuss the information, consult their legal representative and decide on an appropriate response as a council.