Solid waste has now become a high priority item in the City of Lacombe.
On Monday, city council voted in favour of reprioritizing a planned review of solid waste management from medium to high priority, and shifted the review from 2021 to the end of 2019.
The motion was put forward by Coun. Thalia Hibbs, who said she was pleased with council’s decision to accept and move forward on the issue.
“During the campaign, I hardly ever heard about garbage. I got elected, and all of a sudden, everyone wants to talk about garbage,” she said. “It just makes sense – we’ve already identified this (solid waste) as a priority, let’s just move the review earlier in the term, tackle it, get some answers, make a decision and move on.”
Plans to do a review of solid waste in 2021 were part of council’s Strategic Plan, however, the city’s current model came into question during the setting of utility rates for 2019 with proposed increases in garbage pickup in all areas.
Commercial rates increase $6.90 to $116.79 per bin per month. Residential rates, meanwhile jumped from $3.90 to a total of $31.76 per month – a rate that is often higher than other area municipalities in terms of both the rate itself and options available with that rate.
The Town of Blackfalds has a monthly rate of $27.18, Ponoka was $26, Sylvan Lake $25.25 while the City of Red Deer was $22.25.
“Why are we so much more expensive and offering either the same or not as good of a service?” said Hibbs. “It’s solid waste that we have an opportunity to do better for our community – whether that’s having it cost less, ideally, or for better service, ideally. But we have to have that conversation and I think we need to have it as a holistic conversation.”
She said those she’s spoken with in the community can be on polar opposites when it comes to garbage pickup, with some residents wanting to revert to ways of the past, while others are looking for options with pickup, such as organics and compostable materials.
Not everyone was on board, however, with advancing the review as both Coun. Reuben Konnik and Coun. Chris Ross said there may be opportunities to explore alternative treatment methods in the near future, with new technologies coming forth.
Fogdog Energy, is one such company being looked at by area municipalities which promises to treat municipal solid waste and medical waste in an eco-friendly process which turns the waste into what they call “fluff” – a refuse derived fuel.
“I think in the next few years we’re going to see a lot more of these new technologies and what can be done,” said Konnik. “There’s a lot out there…I think we need to stay the course and absolutely do this, but I think we need to wait until, as it’s written in the Strategic Plan, 2021.”
Others pointed out that some of these new technologies could turn out to be not as viable as originally thought, or could be many years away from being able to be implemented.
“Frankly, I just don’t want to wait that long. We need to address this now, attack some of that fiscal bleeding we’re having in this section,” said Hibbs.
“We’ve identified, potentially, area after area after area that we could make better, so let’s do it. Let’s say we’re going to make this a higher priority, get on it, make an impact and as the landscape changes…we’ll be set up already with the most efficient system that we have at the time and hopefully that transition will be relatively seamless.”
Both Konnik and Ross voted against the motion, and then Ross brought forward one of his own, regarding a pilot project scaling some neighbourhood pickup to biweekly from weekly pickup.
While council credited his creativity, most were not in favour of such a project.
“We might have some negative impact with this project in that the neighbourhood that gets picked might be resentful, rather than seeing it as a positive project to learn something new,” said Coun. Cora Hoekstra. “I’m still on the reduce piece – how can we talk to our citizens about really looking at their purchases and how to reduce waste?”
Composting is one of the more popular alternatives in area communities. For example, the City of Red Deer implemented a compost program last year, which is not a program the City of Lacombe has at present. The city does, however, encourage citizens to compost, and has a limited supply of Earth Machine composters, as well as rain barrels, for sale at City Hall for $50.