What does the Cache Creek landfill extension mean for Metro Vancouver?

Once again the province has foiled Metro Vancouver's effort to expand its garbage empire.

Metro has been active for well over a decade trying to build huge new regional garbage disposal facilities, and now twice the province has intervened. It isn't at all clear what the province's motives are.

In June 2005 the EA process to approve the then-GVRD's Ashcroft Landfill was suddenly suspended by the Minister of Sustainable Resource Management George Abbott. GVRD had spent $4.5 million to purchase Ashcroft Ranch and a further $5.5 million on consultants and spin-doctors pushing the project forward.

The official spin on this decision was that the province didn't want to offend First Nations who opposed the project, but the Ministry's Brian Grant had advised in a 2003 letter to the EAO that this project was not approved under the region's 1995 Solid Waste Management Plan.

We were all surprised when Metro suddenly abandoned the Ashcroft project in early 2008 and announced it was planning to build incinerators instead.

No one was angrier about that than the City of Vancouver and Wastech Services, who were running profitable landfills serving our region's needs. The City of Vancouver immediately commissioned Deloitte Touche to write a report on the financial impacts on the city if Metro shut down the Burns Bog landfill and Wastech has carried out a very effective behind-the-scenes information campaign against incineration.

A central plank in Metro's garbage empire strategy has been trumping up a "landfill crisis". The fear of being buried under a wall of garbage in 2010 drove the Metro Board to grudgingly approve exporting our surplus garbage to the U.S. until Metro's new disposal facilities were in place.

This past weekend Environment Minister Barry Penner hinted on CKNW that Wastech's Cache Creek landfill might not close next year as scheduled and yesterday Wastech announced that a two-year extension of the landfill's permit has been approved by Penner's ministry.

Metro claims to be as furious about this development as they were when the province shut down the Ashcroft project. Speaking after Minister Penner on the CKNW radio show on Saturday, Metro Waste Committee Chair Marvin Hunt asked how the Ministry could reject Ashcroft on the grounds of First Nations objections while approving the Cache Creek extension—pointing out that the First Nations are just as divided in their opinion about Cache Creek.

Point scored, but it won't win the game for Metro.

Unless what's really going on is some deeper collusion between Metro and the provincial government aimed around their shared vision of garbage-to-energy incineration.

Helen Spiegelman is a Vancouver-based environmentalist and blog coordinator. Read more at Zero Waste.