Worries over landfill's future

Concerns about the future of Campbell Mountain landfill have prompted the Regional District of Okanagan Similkameen to send a formal letter to the City of Penticton asking them to review their plan for developments nearby.

In the city’s new Official Community Plan, which is currently working its way through discussion in council, sweeping future goals are laid out for development adjacent to the landfill.

But the district is concerned the plans don’t take into account the potential impact of noise, dust and odour those developments might experience, which could potentially lead to lawsuits and, in a worst-case scenario, the forced closure of the landfill. 

They commissioned Tetra Tech Canada to conduct a Nuisance Impact Assessment, the results of which were presented to the board on Thursday.

Wilbert Yang, senior waste management engineer at Tetra Tech, told the board their study found a buffer zone of 500 meters from the landfill to any development was the bare minimum recommended to avoid issues with nuisances, the most prominent of which was odour. 

Yang said 500 meters is also the provincial recommendation. 

“In some communities they go significantly far above that,” he added. 

The study found significant odour from the landfill would likely reach that area over 200 times per year even at that basic buffer line. That's a concern for the future of the facility, which currently has an 85-year life expectancy that the RDOS would like to see fulfilled.

"I've dealt with many situations where an industrial operation was there first and communities built around it. As the number of complaints grew, it became a political issue," Yang said. "In some cases those facilities were required to come up with a plan to deal with it, or shut down."

In 2010, the Westside landfill in West Kelowna was forced to close before its time in part due to response from nearby developments. In 2018, the City of Kelowna made the decision to deny a planned development on Diamond Mountain due to fears residents would complain about nearby Glenmore landfill and force its closure.

Yang said some communities have gone as far as to purchase properties around the landfills to ensure nearby communities can't build into the buffer zone.

Board staff prepared a letter to Penticton council requesting that before they finalize their OCP, they consider inserting a minimum 500 metre buffer zone around the landfill or, alternatively, that they outline a one-kilometre radius "Landfill Impact Assessment Area" to allow for more collaboration time.

Staff said the letter addresses real concerns that affect both the RDOS and the city. 

"There's potential for litigation regarding property rights, and individuals' enjoyment of their property," said Corey Labrecque, RDOS staff. "And that leads to financial risk because public complaints can absolutely lead to early closures of the landfill. And we're not talking reducing the life span from 85 to 60 years or 40 years, we're looking at public complaints coming out the minute they move into their houses in those planned areas."

But the letter didn't sit well with two Penticton council members on the board, Jake Kimberley and Julius Bloomfield, along with Penticton mayor John Vassilaki. 

"I would be extremely careful about arbitrarily increasing the buffer size to 500 meters in such a sensitive location as this with such a sensitive neighbourhood, and it’s not just the developments that are affected,” said Bloomfield, pointing to planned wineries and existing properties. “There are huge indications here if this is not done properly.”

"The 500 metre zone will affect current properties and stop them from expanding," Kimberley said. "And they've already had investments in those properties themselves."

"That’s going to create a huge problem around the landfill. Is there a better way of doing it?" Vassilaki asked. 

Chair Kozakevich stepped in to remind everyone that the letter is merely a suggestion and offer of collaboration, not an order.

"We’re looking at 300 and 500, maybe it’s 400. Maybe we agree on a different number," Kozakevich said. "Because we have to respond by tomorrow we have to go with the information we have. This is not binding, just a suggestion.”

The board passed the motion to send the letter with only the Penticton contingency not voting in support. 

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