Thoughts and Opinions On Today's Important Issues

Thursday, March 11, 2010

DRIC As Garbage

Here is another MegaProject run amok example for you. If you think of this project as what is going on with DRIC, then you will understand what I mean:
  • years in the making
  • huge governmental bureaucracy involved at a big cost
  • mistake after mistake
  • ignoring key data
  • projections being made incorrectly
  • costs escalate horrifically
  • revenue decreases
  • huge "toll" difference--10 times higher--resulting in loss of business to competition from day 1
  • taxpayers stuck as technology changes
  • new technology increases capacity without the need for anything new
  • building something when we cannot afford it
  • political brilliance with no accountability that may backfire on us.

Sounds like what will happen if we have a DRIC bridge doesn't it. But it is not. It all has to do with garbage. From Mini-Gord's column:

  • "Brilliant, I thought to myself. Giving away access to a limited local resource to pay the bills of an overpriced government bureaucracy.

    I wasn't alone in my irritation. "Remember how hard it was to open that thing?" another Star grey hair groused to me.

    Sure do. The multimillion-dollar fight to locate and open "the new dump" dragged on for almost a generation -- from 1984 to 1997.

    Creating the new dump on County Road 18 (Concession Seven in the former Colchester North Township) was a painful, divisive, horrendously expensive process.

    It cost somewhere between $28 million and $40 million, depending on who you believe, split communities, ended political careers and caused lifelong grief to the owners of land expropriated for the greater good.

    Which is why so many of us have the same kneejerk reaction against importing "foreign" garbage. Shouldn't we be preserving a scarce public resource for the local residents who paid through the nose for it?

    Well, yes and no, says Windsor Mayor Eddie Francis, who took over as chairman of the waste authority this year. (City and county politicians take turns chairing the authority.)

    Francis's argument in favour of importing garbage -- at least for the short term -- is convincing. I'm not sure I actually am convinced yet, but here is the argument:

    The current dump was supposed to be good for 25 years when it opened in 1997, five years late. Its closing was originally planned for 2022.

    Capacity of the dump's four "cells" -- four massive mounds of clay-capped garbage -- is limited to a maximum of 12.2 million cubic metres, estimated as the equivalent of 6.1 million tonnes of waste.

    But because the authority set its fees at up to 10 times the rate charged by Michigan landfills for industrial wastes, the flow of garbage into the new landfill plummeted from planned levels from the day it opened.

    In addition, compacting technology has advanced to the point that more weight can now be packed into the same space. The dump can now legally hold an estimated seven to eight million tonnes of waste, packed more tightly.

    Based on recent dumping rates, the remaining landfill space owned by Windsor and Essex County taxpayers is now sufficient to last us a whopping 47 years -- or until 2044.

    We still have 33 years left on a resource that was designed to last for 25. We paid through the nose to open and operate the dump, but we still have all of the original lifespan left, plus seven bonus years.

    But as Francis argues, "What are we prolonging it for? At what cost?"

    Even if we, as owners of the dump, take in 50,000 tonnes of garbage from elsewhere in Ontario for the remainder of the dump's life, it would still last us until 2037, or 15 years longer than we originally planned.

    Continuing to exclude "outside" garbage would give us use of the dump for an additional seven years. But do we really need it?

    Francis and other board members argue that would mean the current generation of taxpayers shouldering a burden for future taxpayers, at a time when we can least afford it ourselves.

    But to me the most convincing argument against prolonging the life of the dump is rapidly advancing disposal technology. "Do you really think we'll still be using landfills in 2044?" Francis asks.

    Good point. Few European countries still landfill. A process called gasification is the way of the future. More than 50 companies are currently trying to commercialize the process in the U.S., and their eventual success is a near certainty, many experts believe."

Of course, did you see any mention by Edgar of this:

  • "But little can be done. Under the North American Free Trade Agreement, the movement of trash across the border is little different from the interstate movement of trash, which courts have ruled is protected by the Constitution's interstate commerce clause. "

Hey, we might be importing MICHIGAN garbage soon. Payback for all of the Toronto trash sent into Michigan perhaps?

Nor did you see this:

  • "Michigan has enough space in its landfills for the next 25 years, the latest trash report said."

  • "Michigan has the lowest per ton fee of any state in the Great Lakes region. That is the main reason it attracts out-of-state trash. But that also means it has less than other states get to oversee solid waste programs."

  • " there‚Äôs not enough revenue to cover landfill inspections to make sure they meet requirements."

That's our Edgar (aka Eddie): Edgar has positioned himself as Chair so he can be our so-called hero and then move on leaving what will be a mess if he is wrong for someone else to deal with. Just like with the losses at the arena.

And you still want a DRIC bridge!