CORNER BROOK — The Great Humber Joint Council doesn't usually meet during the summer months, but its executive may be getting together soon to discuss the latest development in the ongoing saga of regional waste management.
The topic has, more often than not, dominated joint council meetings for the last couple of years.
The plot thickened last week when the western regional waste management committee announced it will no longer be insisting on a transportation subsidy from the provincial government to help offset the cost municipalities will likely incur to have solid waste sent to a management facility at Norris Arm in central Newfoundland.
That decision, which the committee made at its meeting held June 28, flies in the face of a motion passed by the joint council at one its meetings in Reidville in late March.
That motion stated the joint council was opposed to the site being in central Newfoundland to start with. The council has concerns about losing employment opportunities associated with a site in western Newfoundland and the increased amount of traffic shipping waste to central would entail.
More importantly, the council is concerned about what impact the costs of transporting waste so far away will have on municipal operating budgets.
Otto Goulding, the Great Humber Joint Council's president, called the latest decision "bizarre" since the demand for a transportation subsidy was an important factor in negotiating the implementation of a regional waste management strategy.
"The unknown factor is the transportation costs that will remain with municipalities forever and a day after," Goulding said Monday. "We are going to be stuck with that and putting it in central Newfoundland will put a terrible burden on municipalities."
The town councillor from Pasadena said he has spoken with a number of municipalities and they are not happy with not being consulted before this latest decision was made. Even worse, he said municipalities are beginning to lose faith in the committee.
"I know there are representatives from municipalities on that committee but, somehow, somewhere, the interests of the municipalities is not coming out in the decisions that are being made," said Goulding.
Corner Brook deputy mayor Donna Luther represents the city on the committee, but neither she nor Coun. Linda Chaisson — Corner Brook's other representative on the committee, were at the June 28 meeting.
Luther said the issue is a complex one that has required a lot of discussion and it's simply not practical to consult with every municipality before making decisions. The committee is trying to find ways to keep costs down and still wants government to offset whatever the costs will be, but the committee has not had any luck getting the provincial government to commit to a subsidy.
Even if the current government agreed to a funding mechanism, the committee is concerned about that agreement being adequately funded and maintained by future governments.
"Nobody wants to pay an astronomical cost for each household for their waste to go to central, or western or eastern or to Timbuktu ... but can you put an ironclad agreement in place that will carry on forever and ever, amen?" she asked.
For the time being, said Luther, it seems more practical to try and work on ways to reduce the amount of waste that will be shipped to wherever the site is. Accomplishing that, she said, would ensure less costs associated with shipping.
"If we only pay for the waste that goes to central, then we need to look at how can we send as little waste to central as possible," said Luther. "There have to be other initiatives put in place so that only things that would be land-filled would go to central."
Those waste diversion initiatives would have to include enhanced recycling and composting at both the household and community level.
"If we send only 30 per cent of what we send to our landfill now, just think about the cost savings," said Luther.
Right now, the committee's estimate of the additional cost per household to truck garbage to the central facility once the system is in operation stands at around $200 per year.
"We have no reason to believe at this point in time that it's going to be any more than that," she said.