The composting facility at Stanhope Farm will once again be operational, according to farm spokesperson, Brenda Jordison.
Under a permit issued by the ALC (the Province of British Columbia’s Agricultural Land Commission), the farm, located on Old East Road in Central Saanich, will be allowed to resume composting operations for yard waste only and will be restricted from receiving kitchen waste and food stuff material.
It was that sort of organic material that placed the farm and adjacent composting facility at the center of a hurricane of controversy.
“We didn’t have any trouble at all before 2013,” said Jordison. “We installed our system in 2010 and we processed yard waste for several landscaping companies as well as the usual farm material. It produced Grade A compost for our use on the farm and it was perfect.”
According to Jordison, the composting facility (operating under the corporate name of Foundation Organics) was doing so well that they felt comfortable taking on a contract with the CRD by which they would receive kitchen scraps from surrounding communities and include them in the material to be composted.
“The trouble started almost right away,” said Jordison. “We had neighbours, two in particular, who started complaining about the trucks that were hauling in material, the dust, the noise … everything.”
The main complaints from area residents, however, seemed to involve the odour emanating from the Foundation Organics operations.
“We moved here in 1991 and didn’t mind the occasional farm operation smell that was part of the neighborhood,” wrote Donald Wong in response to a 2013 report on this issue. “But the composting smell is constant and making it impossible to keep the windows open.”
The odour problem, while undeniable, wasn’t necessary, according to one composting expert.
“When a composting system is designed properly and managed to the specifications, there can be virtually no odour problems,” said Dr. John Paul, the designer of the Foundation Organics composting facility and a founder of Transform Compost Products.
“When that system was first made operational, it functioned perfectly. It wasn’t until they got the food waste contract that things started to go wrong.”
According to Paul, Foundation Organics was asked by the CRD to accept far more material than they had anticipated, pushing the kitchen scrap portion of the compost mix beyond the 50 per cent by volume mix that he had set as an absolute maximum.
“I had actually suggested that they not exceed 25 per cent for ideal operation, but they went way beyond that,” said Paul. “In fact I understand that they were contractually obliged to do so.”
Jordison maintains that Foundation Organics did everything they could to alleviate the resulting odour problem. She said that, in 2013, in consultation with Dr. Paul, the company increased air exchange, changed some procedures and inspected the biofilters in the enclosed composting facility. They also applied for a permit to construct a secondary building to receive waste in an enclosed, air filtered facility.
“Central Saanich wouldn’t let us construct that building,” said Jordison. “The ALC had some issues regarding a hay barn we had on site that was totally unrelated to the composting application but they stopped us from fixing the problem.”
Ryan Windsor, Central Saanich’s newly elected mayor, was on council at the time that the application was made.
“I recall that we had some correspondence from the ALC that blocked a second building,” said Windsor. “The truth is that I can’t completely blame Stanhope Farm for the situation that finally developed.”
According to Windsor, there were mistakes made all around.
“I’m in favour of composting and reducing waste going to landfills,” said Windsor. “In this case, though, it seems as though there wasn’t a complete plan in place before the kitchen scrap program began.
“We need to handle these things in a way that is sustainable and in this case we may have been asking a limited operator to do something … who wasn’t able to do it all.”
Tom Watkins, the Manager of Environmental Resource Management and Planning for the CRD, denies that the operations at Stanhope Farm were unfairly overstressed.
He maintained the facilities were inspected prior to the awarding of the contract.
“Of course we did our due diligence,” he said. “You can’t say that it was the CRD’s material that pushed them beyond their capacity.
“We had a range of tonnage that we could send them, but they were also taking material from BFI, cruise ships, Thrifty Foods … I think that they were trying to push too much material through their facility.”
Watkins said “due to repeated issues of non-compliance with CRD regulation” the contract with Foundation Organics was suspended in August of 2013, 19 months after it was initially awarded.
Following the suspension, Foundation Organics surrendered their licence for operating a composting facility. That facility is once again operational but is operated on a limited basis by Stanhope Farms.
“This has been a long, hard road,” said Jordison, “and, quite frankly, completely unnecessary.”
Where are the region’s kitchen scraps going now?
After the suspension of Foundation Organics’ contract, the CRD was still faced with the prospect of finding an alternative facility where kitchen scraps could be composted. The solution, according to Tom Watkins, the Manager of Environmental Resource Management and Planning for the CRD, was to send the material to Richmond, B.C.
“The material is being processed by Harvest Power,” said Watkins. “They have the capacity to deal with the tonnage that we’re sending over.”
Perhaps, according to Dr. John Paul.
“They have a really cool system there that uses an anaerobic digester that extracts the carbon from the material and then extracts methane to produce power,” Paul said.
“The problem they have is that they are still left with material that needs to be composted after that process is completed. They do that in an aerated outdoor facility, as I understand it.”
Harvest Power has not been without its critics. In 2012 the Richmond Review reported that the facility had received over 100 complaints about foul odours emanating from the plant.
In an interview with the Globe and Mail, Jeff Leach, the company’s regional vice-president at the time, blamed the odour on the increased volume of food waste.
“It was coming in faster than we could get it ready,” he said at the time.
According to Watkins, those problems have been resolved by Harvest Power and he feels that they will be able to handle the new influx of material without any difficulties.
Watkins acknowledges that the improvements that resolved Harvest Power’s issues weren’t cheap and that the cost to the CRD of processing at that site is higher than those that had been charged at Foundation Organics.
“I guess you get what you pay for,” said Watkins.
— by Tim Collins/News Contributor