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Letter: New council gets taste of time-sensitive issue

To The Editor:

At the January 7 city council meeting, the Nelson City administration recommended to councillors that recycling rates remain the same. They then casually tacked on a resolution to not participate in the RDCK’s regional composting plan. And asked councillors to vote.

For neophytes who have no experience with industrial composting systems, the intuitive answer to the municipal composting question is often the same: ‘Local and small must be better’. But to professionals interested environmental and economic efficiently, this is rarely the case.

So, when rookie councillors started talking about localized solutions, pilot projects, education funding and innovation, it was nothing new. That’s been going on for decades. But what was new was the City taking advantage of the naiveté to try to kill regional compositing altogether – something that needs the Nelson’s participation to be viable. The existing regional composting draft plan has been years in the making - spurred on by not only by provincial policy inertia but also by the newly released provincial climate plan – of which composting now appears to be a pillar.

The City seems to be leading councillors down the garden path, again citing rising costs of shared services with the RDCK as a substantiation of inaction or withdrawal.

This is now a perennial and adolescent whine. The whole waste management issue is in provincial upheaval and needs coordinated leadership, not isolationism. The same is true for whatever other issue the City has an intrinsic responsibility to work with other levels of government on such as wildfire, watershed issues, and emergency management. These are critical issues with consequences, and do not benefit from a head-in-the-sand approach. There is going to be no contentious avoidance of cost. We pay now or pay a much greater price later be that wildfire, lack of integrated response to an emergency, or larger environmental catastrophe.

One would think that for a vote on such an item of consequence, the City would have done its job and substantiated its recommendation – but this was not the case.

councillors were not provided with the draft regional composting plan. They were not provided an opportunity to be briefed by the RDCK. The City did not provide any analysis of municipal composting issues in Nelson. They were not provided with the recent Nelson industrial composting study. To top it off, the City stated that rejecting regional composting was ‘Not Applicable’ to City Sustainability Goals, even though organic waste is a specific component of the Path to 2040 Sustainability Strategy.

Not Applicable? What?!

Regional Composting is a time-sensitive issue and the City knows it. Nelson needs a new truck, a new plan for a new curbside recycling and possibly composting system (with bins), and the RDCK is almost ready to go ahead with building a central composting facility. The City is well aware that the regional plan needs Nelson’s participation – and that any ‘local’ composting pilot project will most likely be abandoned.

In coming to their vague conclusion to ‘keep composting local’ did the ‘Green’ councillors do ANY research beyond superficial and self-indulgent conjecture? If they had, it might have given them pause. Their blind and self-important speculation has now set a trajectory towards the replacement of a professionally endorsed system with… something else.

Jesse Woodward in particular should know better. Perhaps if he had given composting and recycling any priority in his time as Markets Director at the Eco Society, he would have a better grasp of the issues.

When Keith Page brought up his idea for ‘fly larvae’ composting, I could just hear the City Manager squirm with glee: “What a great opportunity for us to string along a non-starter pilot project that will ultimately save us money by keeping us out of the RDCK plan.”

Rik Logtenberg at least seemed interested in how to collect compost in the new City trucks, but also offered little resistance.

Brittny Anderson was the only councillor to stand up and question the resolution, other than Janice Morrison, who suggested that the recycling rates could go up ‘just a smidge’ to help pay for service changes. (Apparently, raising recycling rates at a time when the City needs new trucks, a new system, and recycling is in upheaval was a non-issue to the ‘green’ councillors.) Anderson pointed out respectfully – and somewhat awkwardly – that there was a workshop scheduled with the RDCK to go over the regional composting plan on February 20th and suggested it would benefit councillors to learn about the plan before rejecting it. Her intervention – hard to argue with – resulted in the removal of one portion of the resolution.

Apparently, the City did not feel the February meeting was important enough to mention. As such, councillors can be assured of not only the administration’s opinion on the matter, but also their ready willingness to provide slanted, incomplete, or in this case non-existent analysis if it is in their interest.

It is now obvious that Council is going to have to stand up and demand good information on this or any other issue that might happen go against the administration’s agenda. At some point, it would be nice if they were able to take the reigns and direct the administration, not the other way around.

There is another scenario. The RDCK could just inform the City that organics are no longer allowed in the landfill. The City would then learn quickly how to most efficiently deal with organic waste.

In many jurisdictions, this is just the way it is done. Industry professionals know that involving municipalities in facility establishment usually results in this kind of messy and counter-productive politicking.

The City administration’s attempt to railroad struggling new councillors might be called devious if it wasn’t so transparent. To behave in such a manipulative and underhanded manner towards their own Council (and also in relation to other levels of government) shows either significant and strategic contempt or – in the other possible scenario, egregious incompetence. But in any event, the new Council is 100% responsible for their actions.

Bruce Edson, Nelson, BC