Richmond Landfill’s contamination problem resurfaced in the town of Napanee at this week’s council meeting on Tuesday, May 23, 2023.
Ian Munro, a long-time member of the Concerned Citizens Committee of Tyendinaga and Environs (CCCTE), made a deputation at the meeting to update Council on the state of the landfill site on Beechwood Road.
Munro made Council aware of an attempt by Waste Management Inc. (WM) to bring the closed landfill into compliance with Ontario laws and regulations. WM has submitted three applications to the Ministry of the Environment, Conservation and Parks (MECP) for approval, said Munro. He wanted Council to understand that, in the expert opinion of the CCCTE’s hydrogeologist, the proposals are “not adequate to protect human health and the local environment” from being exposed to noxious chemicals.
Munro stated that the decisions on these applications are expected to be issued in the coming weeks, and the Town of Greater Napanee Council should be aware of the implications.
There are two main conclusions for Napanee, stated Munro. “First, this landfill should never have been located at this location given the complex groundwater environment, and there should never be an expansion of this facility. Second, the currently proposed ‘solutions’ to the off-site groundwater contamination are untested and potentially very dangerous.”
At the outset of his deputation, Munro said, “I know I have a 10-minute limit [to speak], and I’m happy to live within that. But please understand that what I’m giving you tonight is a ‘Coles’ Notes’ version. There are plenty of resources out there for you to learn more.”
Munro then set the scene by going over the history of the Richmond Landfill site, explaining that the landfill was started in 1950, was expanded dramatically in the 1980s, and was immediately sold to a corporate waste company. Then it was sold in the 1990s to WM, which sought to undertake a massive expansion of the dump.
“That particular proposal was rejected in 2006 because the site was not safe,” Munro explained. “It took the MECP six more years after that to order the landfill to be closed… and it took until 2012 to get it closed.”
In 2012, CCCTE, the Mohawks of the Bay of Quinte, and Napanee Green Lights challenged MECP and WM at an environmental review tribunal to ensure safe long-term monitoring. “This process proved the landfill was contaminating the groundwater, despite years of denials by Waste Management,” noted Munro. Due to the tribunal decision, WM is required to “delineate” the extent of “leachate contamination” and bring the site into compliance with Ontario laws and regulations.
Munro reported that, in 2022, MECP declared the contamination plume to be “reasonably delineated” — in his opinion, “a very strange selection of words.” The CCCTE does not agree with that conclusion, mostly due to issues related to the privately owned property located to the east of the landfill, he said. “Very little testing is being carried out on that property due to a lack of agreement between Waste Management and [landowners] the Martins… so that’s the basis of our concerns about the delineation.”
Munro presented maps to illustrate the group’s concern. “Waste Management, a year ago, submitted applications to get approval for their latest environmental monitoring plan, the Contaminant Attenuation Zone [represented on the map by a dotted line], and a controversial purge well system to manage the contamination onto the neighbouring Martin property. And, perhaps most controversial of all, they’re seeking approval to pump that contaminated water from the ground and deposit it onto the surface, in the stormwater control ponds, south of the landfill.”
Monro emphasized that “as far as I know, and as far as our expert hydrogeologist knows, this is the first time such a proposal has been considered by Ontario. It’s a very strange approach.”
According to Munro, the proposed hydraulic control system poses major risks. First, he said, there is no guarantee that it will work as Waste Management expects, due to very limited testing. “There’s no evidence yet that it could even work. It has been used in other environments where it’s not a fractured limestone base, with success. But this [landfill site’s fractured limestone base] is a completely different environment.”
Second, he said, it could actually make the situation much worse by causing deep saline water to upwell, drawing contaminated water from further underneath the landfill and bringing it to the surface, thereby increasing groundwater contamination.
Third, pumping contaminated groundwater onto the surface and allowing it to flow into the Beechwood ditch poses danger to those downstream, as it flows into Marysville Creek. Munro called this the “most gobsmacking proposal: [to] take this contaminated water and basically dump it into the creek, indirectly.”
Munro said the CCCTE met with MECP on April 11, 2023, and were advised that approval of these applications is expected by the end of May 2023. “Based on what we know at this point, these applications do not address the significant concerns of our hydrogeologist. There is a potentially serious threat to human health and the environment posed by these proposals. [But] in spite of that, MECP appears to be on the verge of approving these applications.”
Munro surmised that in the best-case scenario, the proposal will lower the exposure to the single property to the east of the landfill, but increase the exposure to many properties to the west and downstream on Callaghan Road and including Tyendinaga Township and Mohawks of the Bay of Quinte.
“In the worst case scenario,” he reiterated, “it will make matters much worse by drawing highly dangerous saline to the surface and spreading it around.”
He left Council with options he said they should consider. The first was to confirm the Town of Greater Napanee’s earlier resolutions declaring Napanee to be an unwilling host for any expanded landfill at this site. Also, assuming the WM applications are in fact approved, the Town could appeal to the Ontario Land Tribunal within 15 days, or partner with concerned citizens and neighbouring communities (Tyendinaga Township and Mohawks of the Bay of Quinte) to file a combined appeal.
After councillors had a chance to clarify their understanding of the presentation, Mayor Terry Richardson thanked Munro, admitting that the landfill situation may have slipped out of the current Council’s sphere of awareness. “I know that most of us weren’t around when this whole process started with Waste Management. So for most of us, even in the last term of Council, we didn’t really experience a lot of it,” he said.