Article: Dumping Garbage in a Hole? The Plan Just Stinks

Michele Lansberg, Toronto Star, Sunday, Oct. 8, 2000.

I’M VOTING FOR the garbage guy.

Oh, I know, mayoral candidate Tooker Gomberg has lots of other serious issues in his platform: traffic, transit, the arts, homelessness. But it’s the current Adams Mine dump debate that led me to stumble across him.

He’s got my vote because he has the ecologically sane alternative to our garbage problem. Mel Lastman’s idea is to pay $1 billion of public money over the next 20 years to dump 20 million tonnes of Toronto’s garbage into a big hole in the ground.

Cities like Halifax and Edmonton (where Tooker Gomberg was a city councillor and helped get the recycling program going) now compost and recycle 50 to 70 per cent of their garbage. Residents have cut their garbage in half. Jobs are created in sorting and recycling out what’s left. The methane gas from composting is enough to heat 4,000 Edmonton homes. That’s what Gomberg would like to accomplish in Toronto.

Just blithely bury your garbage? That’s so 19th-century it’s an outrage. Everything about the deal is an outrage. Dig around enough into the background of this stinking deal, as I have recently done, and you begin to feel as though you’ve been buried under a mountain of slimy, rotten, secret deal-making.

Listen to this, for starters: Years ago, when Gordon McGuinty’s Notre Development company bought the abandoned iron ore mine near Kirkland Lake and began plotting to make it into a mega-dump, it promised Kirkland Lake $600,000 in royalties if the municipality spoke only in favour of the dump.

When dump opponent Richard Denton ran for mayor and won, he instantly found himself silenced. In recent interviews with The Star, he had to hint obliquely at his views.

“Essentially, I am gagged,” he said, although later he ignored the perceived stricture. Is this is a democracy – or a garbage gulag?

The local First Nations, as well as a huge majority of residents, are angrily opposed to the dump, which will turn pure groundwater into a “garbage soup” containing 65,000 pollutants. Yet Mayor Mel stridently insists that the northerners are “willing hosts” for our garbage.

Picture it: The potential dump site is a hole as big as 50 football fields and 55 storeys deep. There are reports from the mine’s last days that document the hundreds of leaks and fissures in the rock walls. Groundwater pours in, and groundwater pours out, directly into the water table south of the mine that feeds some of the richest farmland in the province.

The technology that the garbage company proposes – to push all the groundwater into and through the garbage, pump it back up, treat it and put into back into the ground – is utterly untested in the field.

How on earth did such a scheme get approved? Notre’s lawyer, Robert G. Power, was one of those asked by the Harris government to revise the Environmental Assessment rules. The NDP asked the government if there wasn’t something wrong with the company’s lawyer helping change the rules. But the government shrugged off the questions. A special, abbreviated form of environmental assessment that Power helped devise, was then applied to the Adams Mine proposal. (Even then, with the rules so conveniently rearranged, it was not a unanimous decision to approve it).

Power was then appointed to the board of the Trillium Foundation, where he soon supplanted Julie White, the widely respected chair, and promptly turned his hand to using the Trillium private contact list to fund-raise for the Tories.

Mmmm, savoury. Let’s see, what else stinks about the Adams Mine?

How about the company that will be running the dump, under an agreement with Notre? Canadian Waste Services is a subsidiary of Waste Management Inc., which is the largest garbage disposal company in the United States. Wisely, the Canadian subsidiary gave the Harris Tories a $74,000 campaign donation last year. As NDP environment critic Marilyn Churley pressed home in the Legislature last week, in the past 20 years, WMI has paid out $370 million in fines for environmental crimes, price-fixing schemes, fraud and shareholder deception. A judge in one ot the cases wrote that he was troubled by the way “fraud, mismanagement and dishonesty apparently became part of the operating culture of the . . . corporation.”

And the Canadian subsidiary of WMI is going to be in charge of groundwater purity in the Temiskaming region for the next 100 years.

Walkerton, anyone?

Even though it’s claimed that WMI Canada has a clean record so far, I don’t feel deeply reassured.

The mine leaks like a sponge. It is in the middle of an active earthquake zone – three earthquakes, in fact, since last New Year’s, when a 5.1 tremor hit the area.

Dr. Larry Jensen, a professional geologist who worked for the Ontario government for 30 years, was an expert on the rock formations of the entire Kirkland Lake area and did geological mapping at the Adams Mine. In a letter to Mel Lastman, Jensen expressed his fears that the garbage dump proposal is “a disaster.”

Who will clean up the polluted waters? Jensen ended his letter to Lastman this way: “The cleanup will not be peanuts and it will be your legacy.”

Mel wasn’t listening. At the 11th hour, he pressured the Toronto councillors to approve, almost overnight, an elaborate secret contract that forbade any public discussion of the details. (Disturbing details nevertheless trickled out over the next few days).

Perhaps Mayor Mel thinks this is a private business deal to buy refrigerators. Self-importantly, he harangued the more reluctant council members, lecturing them about “normal business practice.” But this isn’t business, it’s democracy. It’s not Mel’s money, it’s ours.

The Adams Mine dump is an outrage, not only because of all the big business wheeling, dealing and profiteering that we’re not supposed to know about, not only because of the corruption of our parliamentary processes and environmental safeguards, but also because the mere idea of reckless toxic dumping, in this day and age, is idiotic.

There are dozens of practical, cheaper, safer, Earth-protecting ways that these conservative dinosaurs at city council evidently can’t be bothered to learn about.

I’m voting for Tooker Gomberg for mayor because, right now, garbage is the defining issue, and he’s on the side of a clean future.