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Landfill firm hires ex-Metro Vancouver treasurer as lobbyist

Aerial view of the Cache Creek regional landfill. It
Aerial view of the Cache Creek regional landfill. It's takes 200,000 tonnes of Metro Vancouver waste per year but that's expected to end when the original landfill closes in 2016. An extension is planned to serve other communities.
— image credit: File photo

The company that runs the Cache Creek landfill and is fighting Metro Vancouver's plan to build a new garbage incinerator has recruited one of Metro's top administrators.

Jim Rusnak, formerly Metro's chief financial officer and treasurer, is now executive director of corporate development at Belkorp Industries.

According to the provincial lobbyist registry, Rusnak is now "lobbying a number of MLAs and staff of the Ministry of Environment on behalf of Belkorp Industries Inc. regarding a suitable regulatory framework for the pre-processing of municipal solid waste."

Cache Creek Mayor John Ranta, whose village is a partner with Belkorp in developing an extension to the landfill, called Rusnak a good choice to aid the cause.

"He knows where the bodies are buried at Metro," Ranta said.

He noted Belkorp also last year enlisted former B.C. Liberal MLA John Les as a lobbyist soon after he left provincial politics.

"They've got a few good people working for them," Ranta said. "That bodes well for the future of the industry in this area."

The landfill once employed 120 truck drivers and landfill workers in Cache Creek when Metro sent nearly 500,000 tonnes of waste there per year, but the annual flow of garbage has dwindled to 200,000 tonnes and the associated jobs have dropped to about 45.

"To a small community like Cache Creek, those jobs are sorely missed," Ranta said.

The nearly full original landfill, run by Belkorp subsidiary Wastech Services, is slated to close by the end of 2016, but work could begin soon to open the new extension, after a final operating certificate is issued.

It would take garbage for decades from surrounding communities, and Ranta hopes it can also serve as a backup destination for Metro Vancouver waste, which might otherwise be exported to the U.S. if a future incinerator either can't be built or runs into problems during operation.

He also noted garbage from Whistler and some other communities on Vancouver Island and the Sunshine Coast is currently shipped to a U.S. landfill.

Metro barred those communities from using Cache Creek to preserve capacity in the landfill while it seeks approval to build a new waste-to-energy plant.

The landfill at Cache Creek has been getting greener, Ranta said.

Three reciprocating engines are being installed to turn landfill gas, which is now flared, into 4.2 megawatts of electricity for sale into the BC Hydro grid.

Belkorp also wants to build mixed-waste material recovery facilities (MRFs) to pull recyclables out of garbage before it's landfilled.

"We want to be in the material recovery business," said Belkorp vice-president Russ Black, adding Metro has resisted the idea even though it would increase waste diversion rates.

Metro in October passed a controversial waste flow bylaw to outlaw exports of waste out of the region and restrict the use of mixed-waste material recovery facilities.

About 70,000 tonnes of Metro waste now leaves the region, mainly to a cheaper transfer station at Abbotsford and then south to a landfill in southern Washington, but Metro officials fear the outbound trickle will turn into a flood.

Metro stands to lose millions in lost tipping fees if waste haulers are allowed to truck trash away to sites in the Fraser Valley with cheaper dump charges and fewer bans on what can be dumped.

Waste haulers and  other business opponents contend Metro needs a "monopoly" on waste handling in order to raise tipping fees an estimated 40 per cent in the coming years and to retain a supply of waste to feed a new incinerator.

"The best way to get an incinerator is to kill a landfill," Black said, adding Metro should "step back" from the $500-million planned investment in an incinerator and see if privately built MRFs could sharply reduce the amount of waste left to be burned or buried.

"If they don't work, then with a clear conscience we can build an incinerator," he said. "If they do we've just saved ourselves $500 million."

Metro is waiting for Environment Minister Mary Polak to approve or reject the new Bylaw 280, which is the target of an opposition website at trashthefeehike.ca.

Black said Metro has its own lobbyists but is not required to report them to the registry governing private sector lobbying.

"There's a massive lobby effort and we are but a small fraction of that."

Metro board chair Greg Moore said Rusnak's move to Belkorp was "a surprise" but would not discuss the terms of the former treasurer's mid-2013 departure from the regional district, or if he was precluded from working for certain employers.

"Belkorp obviously settled on a strategy of coming after Metro Vancouver in the last few months," Moore said.

"They're the biggest landfill operator in B.C., so of course they want more garbage to go to their landfill – they've got a lot invested in it."

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