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Tervita allowed to consult public on controversial proposed landfill

Calgary-based Tervita Corporation is now preparing for public consultation on its proposed Wolverine Landfill project, after the Peace River Regional District voted to authorize a public information meeting on the proposal. The proposed landfill would act like a storage facility for drill cuttings that are contaminated by hydrocarbons deep in the earth.

"The technology doesn't exist today to do anything else with (the material)," explains Jim Shaw, manager of community relations and Aboriginal relations for Tervita. "Our landfills are engineered and designed to hold that material indefinitely without it coming in contact with the environment again."

It's intended to provide local oilfield companies with a waste management option in the area. The site would be located just south of the Braden Road extension, in the Agricultural Land Reserve.

The PRRD Board could have approved and sent the proposal to the Agricultural Land Commission, or refused the application at the Thursday meeting. However, the decision to authorize a public meeting came with opposition.

The proposed landfill would be near a grazing reserve known as the Sunset Prairie Community Pasture. The reserve is home to 5,000 cows, calves and steerlings that will eventually be used for food, and is close to another farm, Nilson Brothers Livestock, which is home to another 5 – 6,000 animals. Glyn Evans, director for the Sunset Pasture Grazing reserve, says Tervita hasn't considered the ramifications of building a landfill so close to a food source.

"That puts this hazardous waste site in the middle of between 10 and 11 thousand head of cattle every summer, within a six mile radius," he says. "Why would we put this site in a place that's so sensitive?"

Evans says this is a unique situation in the province, as there is such a heavy concentration of cattle in the area. He worries that not only would there be a major problem should there be a leak from the landfill, but just having such hazardous materials near their operations could be enough to hurt their brand and the reputation of the beef industry. Organizations like People for the Ethical Treatment of Animals already target the industry, and Evans doesn't want to give them an easy opportunity.

"It's just adding fuel to an opportunity for them to degrade our brand, without even having an environmental incident," he argues. On the flip side, "should there be a leak, the damage to the industry would be huge."

Shaw ensures "rigorous" testing has been done on the area to ensure it is the right site, and that a minimum of 25 years of monitoring will take place after it is closed in an estimated 20 to 25 years. Although the objections are there, Tervita wants the chance to engage the public as a whole and find out their concerns. It will now conduct public consultations, and when ready, present its findings to the board in order to schedule a public meeting.

"As a company we believe very strongly that the community has a legitimate right to know about our planned and ongoing activities and to be involved in decisions that directly affect them," says Shaw.

At the same time, the Sunset Community Pasture Association hopes to have the next couple months to educate the public, and in turn have them tell their elected officials what they want. Evans says they've already compromised with the oil and gas industry many times – there is already a lot of development within the pasture – but this is the limit.

"This is different," he says. "It's not about withdrawing a resource we need; it's about something we don't need and it's actually a danger to us putting it in the middle of a food resource, so that's where we're drawing the line."

A date for a public hearing on the matter will be held once Tervita has conducted its public consultation. Should the PRRD approve the proposal, it would still need approval from the ALC.