The City of Toronto conceded last week it needs a study taking one year and costing up to $1 million to settle the question of what to do with solid waste from the Highland Creek sewage plant.
Toronto Council had settled on a “beneficial use” solution for the sewage – trucking dried waste up to Hwy. 401 and sending it to landfills if necessary – as part of the city’s Biosolids Master Plan (BMP), and the decision was confirmed last year.
Though popular in Scarborough communities to the west, trucking out the waste was unpopular in neighbourhoods nearest the plant, and with the neighbourhood liaison committee consulted during six years of study for the BMP.
“Several local community members” expressed their concerns to the city and Ontario’s environment ministry after council’s decision last May, and provincial approval for the BMP “has been delayed as a result,” said a staff report to the public works and infrastructure committee.
The report concludes an environmental assessment is necessary to revisit the decision because the residents are expected to request the province order a higher level study to address what they consider outstanding issues in the BMP.
That could significantly delay the city’s plans not only at Highland Creek but at three other sewage treatment plants.
Completed in 2009, the BMP had recommended replacing Highland Creek’s multiple hearth incineration system, which is now four decades old, with more modern fluidized bed incinerators.
Instead, council chose a plan that will remove the incinerators and sell whatever percentage of the treated biosolids it can, building a truck loading facility at the plant to contain odours.
Scarborough East Councillor Ron Moeser supported the incineration option and called the latest turn of events a “real conundrum.”
“The province thinks it’s a flawed process (leading to the decision). Council thinks it did the right thing,” said Moeser, adding he thinks council made a mistake.
“There’s something wrong when we get into a bind like this.”
Three local community associations asked the ministry to order a higher-level study through what is called a Part II Order request, and are happy with this development, Moeser said. “That obviously worked.”
This week, Kate Jordan, a ministry spokesperson, said ministry staff reviewed the BMP, and since council “did not vote in favour of the preferred alternative identified in the BMP for biosolids management at Highland (Creek), a new environmental assessment will be completed to assess the future of biosolids at the facility.”
In the meantime, because the new study hasn’t started, residents requesting a bump-up have been told their requests are premature, she said.
City staff have estimated the study should take nine to 12 months to complete and cost between $500,000 to $1 million, suggesting the higher figures may be needed to deal with Part II Order requests.
Moeser said a request for proposals was automatically triggered by the committee’s vote last week to receive the report.
The province requires a change to either fluidized bed incinerators or beneficial use by 2020, when new emissions requirements take effect, but since the aging plant incinerators continue to pollute air in the meantime, surrounding communities won’t benefit from the latest delay, Moeser said.