The Ministry of the Environment removed a tonnage limit for the Taro industrial dump without any public notice, effectively extending the site’s life by five years and allowing it to take more than two million tonnes of additional waste.
The amendment to the site’s licence, buried in Appendix F of a 2005 annual report for the site, is detailed in a Nov. 28, 2005 letter to then-owner PSC Industrial Services Canada Inc. from ministry director Greg Washuta.
It came just five days after PSC applied for the change.
The letter notifies PSC that the ministry is revoking the existing licence Condition 21 allowing up to 10 million tonnes of waste and 6.32 million cubic metres, and replacing it with a new one specifying just the cubic-metre limit.
"It was considered, in ministry terminology, to be an administrative amendment.”
At the time, PSC estimated each cubic metre of disposed waste weighed 1.94 tonnes, meaning the new condition increased the site’s tonnage to 12.26 million tonnes.
New owner Terrapure Environmental Inc. is now seeking to further raise the upper Stoney Creek dump’s capacity to 10 million cubic metres, or double the original maximum tonnage, based on a revised formula of two tonnes per cubic metre.
Throughout the process leading up to the dump’s controversial approval by the Harris government without public hearings in July 1996, citizens and politicians were repeatedly told the site would receive up to 10 million tonnes of waste over 20 years.
In his 2005 letter, Washuta states his decision to remove the tonnage limit is “all in accordance with the application for approval dated November 23, 2005, and supporting information and documentation prepared by PSC Industrial Services Canada Inc.”
“The maximum approved volumetric capacity of the landfill is not consistent with the maximum tonnage approved for the site due to inaccurate estimates of the density of the waste made during the study of the landfill,” the letter states.
The impact of the change on the dump’s original 20-year lifespan was immediate.
While the 2004 Taro annual report estimated the site had 12 years of capacity left – putting it on pace to be full this year – the 2005 report increased that estimate to 16 years even though another year had passed.
Subsequent Taro annual reports now all state that “the estimated life of the site was approximately 25 years” – rather than the 20 years in every report prior to 2005.
The Condition 21 change came at a time when the ministry had allowed PSC to walk away from a community liaison committee for the dump and set up a hand-picked Taro Neighbourhood Liaison Committee in its place.
The new committee never met in public during its six-year tenure and appeared to violate conditions of Taro’s licence requiring two members from city council.
But it did keep minutes and they show PSC mentioned the Condition 21 change at a Dec. 5, 2005 evening meeting at Boston Pizza attended by four people: Michael Jovanovic and Lorenzo Alfano for PSC, and citizen members Nancy Hackett and Kathy Wakeman.
An unattributed statement characterizes the change as “an administrative amendment.”
“There was an inconsistency in the tonnage and the volume that would have resulted in the landfill design having to be amended,” the minutes state.
“PSC applied to correct the inconsistency so the approved design can be utilized to its fullest extent. No other implications to change other than administrative clean up.”
As he was then, Alfano is the Taro’s site manager, while Jovanovic, now a Terrapure vice-president, was in a similar role for PSC in 2005.
Terrapure communications director Greg Jones pointed to the Boston Pizza meeting as evidence PSC disclosed the change publicly and said the tonnage limit was inconsistent with another licence condition detailing the dump’s final contours.
He said the number of tonnes per cubic metre of waste was always estimated to be higher than the implied math behind the 1996 approvals.
“The ministry agreed with that and it was considered, in ministry terminology, to be an administrative amendment,” Jones said.
The ministry did not directly respond to a reporter’s question on why it amended Taro’s licence without public notice.
“As set out in the Environmental Bill of Rights, environmental assessments promote an effective and efficient decision making process that includes ensuring that public concerns are heard,” ministry spokesperson Lindsay Davidson stated via email.
“Terrapure Environmental has since initiated a study under the Environmental Assessment Act which will examine various alternatives to the site’s current disposal capacity.”
Asked for comment, the province’s official environmental watchdog said it has repeatedly criticized the government “for making environmentally significant decisions without proper public consultation.”
Michael Zupnic, a spokesperson for the Environmental Commissioner of Ontario, said it’s possible the ministry may have relied on a legal exemption allowing the change to be considered a step toward implementing Taro’s 1996 approvals.
He noted commissioner Dianne Saxe wrote Environment Minister Glen Murray in June to urge him to either scrap or limit the exemption as part of a pending review of the Environmental Bill of Rights.