April 07, 2010

Good riddance to the Hillsburgh Transfer Station

As published in The Erin Advocate

I am going to miss the Hillsburgh Transfer Station when it closes next month. I will have to forgo the satisfaction of loading my vehicle with trash and spending 45 minutes on Saturday making the round trip from south Erin. I will have to figure out what to do with the $200 per year I will save on gasoline.

Actually, when rural pickup starts, the main thing I will miss is the ability to deal with my garbage and recycling on my own schedule. Soon, I will have to put them at the end of my driveway early in the morning on every second Thursday. But I will be glad to never again wait in line at "the dump".

Some people are upset about closure of the station, and I do respect their sentiments. There will be new inconveniences, affecting some residents more than others. Urban dwellers will no longer have the option of skipping their pickup and bringing garbage to Hillsburgh for just $1 per large bag. Now both urban and rural residents will have to buy special bags at local stores ($1.75 for large, $1 for small).

Rural pickup every two weeks is not ideal, but it is manageable. Overall, I think the advantages of the new system far outweigh the disadvantages, and there are still opportunities for improvement, especially weekly pickup in the summer.

Environmentally, the benefits are clear. It takes a lot less labour and gasoline to operate garbage trucks than it does to have between 700 and 925 residents making weekly trips to a fully-staffed station. Rural pickup is an economical service that has been unreasonably withheld from us by Wellington County for the past ten years.

The Hillsburgh site has to be closed because it sits on an old garbage dump that is leaking pollutants. Presumably it was a matter of expedience for the Township to put a transfer station on top of a closed landfill site in 1984, but in hindsight, not a good idea. The last day of operation for the Hillsburgh site is set for May 1, but Councillor Lou Maieron is asking the County to postpone closure until the end of May.

The County's strategy, when it took responsibility for the site in 2001, was to propose a new station near Ospringe. There was opposition in Erin, forcing the County to scrap the plan. I thought the environmental risks at Ospringe were minimal, but I knew that if they built a new transfer station, we would never get rural pick-up. Instead of coming up with a new plan, the County studied, and waited.

In its March newsletter, County Solid Waste Services (SWS) brags about being "good custodians" of closed landfill sites. It appears, though, that it was primarily pressure from the Ministry of the Environment that prompted closure of the Hillsburgh site after so many years.

Here is the SWS comment on the Ospringe site controversy, from its newsletter: "Unfortunately, the County was unable to proceed with the development of this facility due to public and political opposition."

Unfortunately? That is like saying: "Unfortunately, democracy worked." Or: "Unfortunately, we had to listen to the taxpayers." What is truly unfortunate is the arrogant attitude that Erin often senses from County officials.

Fortunately, Mayor Rod Finnie and Councillor Maieron have listened well to residents and worked hard to advance Erin's interests at County Council.

Now, Erin residents are upset that they will have to drive to the Belwood Waste Facility to drop off bulky garbage, scrap metal, wood, tires, reusable items and household hazardous waste. The cost of a new comprehensive facility to handle these items for Erin-Rockwood would be far less than that of a full transfer station.

Belwood is not "conveniently located" as the County claims. Councillor Maieron said other areas in Wellington are well-served with convenient transfer stations that have far lower usage than Hillsburgh. He also estimates that garbage bag sales could cover the full cost of Erin garbage collection. "Our taxes are going to subsidize service in other parts of the County," he said.

The Belwood site is 40 minutes one way for me, but I will only have to make the trip three or four times a year. It is about 30 minutes (31 km) from Erin village, and 20 minutes (23 km) from Hillsburgh, taking County Road 22 west, north on the Town Line (Road 26) through Belwood village, then west 2 km on Road 19. The alternate route through Marsville is a bit slower.

Nothing definite yet, but there are ongoing discussions with East Wellington Community Services about creating a reuse store, where people could donate good used bulky items (not garbage), which could be sold to the public at low prices.

"We would like to generate revenue to support our other programs," said Executive Director Glenyis Betts, who hopes a location can be opened soon.