The new transfer station in Fernie is up and running and thanks to the insistence of Mayor Mary Giuliano and Electoral Area A Director, Mike Sosnowski, it will be open seven days a week.
Fernie residents were not happy to hear that the transfer station would not be open on Sundays, said Giuliano, adding she had to fight to keep the station open all week.
“I got phone calls. I got e-mails. I was buying groceries and got an ear full from everybody who was on the lineup. I brought all of that back to the regional district board and said ‘look, people are not going to be happy with this.’”
Giuliano said that staff at the old Coal Creek transfer station informed her that Sunday was generally the busiest day.
All four communities in the Elk Valley -Fernie, Sparwood, Elkford and Electoral Area A- share the cost of dealing with municipal solid waste. This meant the four directors, Giuliano, Sosnowski, Mayor Lois Halko of Sparwood and Mayor Dean McKerracher of Elkford, had to vote on whether the station could be opened on Sunday.
“We weren’t sure of the cost at the time and the opposition wasn’t sure if they wanted to share in the cost of a service their residents would not be using,” said Sosnowski.
RDEK staff prepared a report that estimated the cost of the Sunday openings at $11,000 annually.
“When the cost came in at a low amount, I pleaded with them to agree or we are going to end up seeing a lot more stuff getting thrown in the backcountry,” said Sosnowski.
Sosnowski’s concern over illegal dumping was realised during the Canada Day weekend. At Fernie’s Chamber of Commerce where several waste bins are located, people dumped a barbecue, furniture and plenty of bags.
“The bins were overflowing. It looked terrible,” said Giuliano, who was sent e-mails with photos of the mess. One of the emails said that people went to the transfer station, found it closed, so they just decided to leave it there.
The volume of garbage produced by Fernie also played a factor in keeping it open on Sunday. Fernie produces 6,000 tons of waste as opposed to 2,000 tons in Sparwood and 1,000 tons in Elkford.
“Because of the amount of garbage that Fernie produces as opposed to Sparwood and Elkford, it was more than justified to keep the Fernie transfer station open on Sunday,” said Sosnowski.
Even with the additional costs, the new transfer station will be much cheaper to operate, compared to the old site.
In 2011, operating costs for the old station were around $384,000. The estimated operating cost of the new station, open seven days a week is around $214,000, resulting in a $170,000 savings.
The lower costs are thanks to a new tipping contract between the regional district and Waste Management, signed earlier this year.
Sosnowski pointed out that the savings won’t end there.
The old transfer station was outdoors. The waste would absorb all the rain and snow, which increased the weight, which in turn, increased the tipping costs.
“We haven’t even calculated that part yet into the savings,” said Sosnowski.
However, there is one caveat, said Giuliano. In order to get Elkford Mayor Dean McKerracher on board with the Sunday openings, it was given a one-year trial run. At the end of one year, the RDEK will study the records and see if Sunday was in fact the busiest day of the week.
Sosnowski said building the new transfer station has been a topic of discussion for more than 17 years. “There was a lot of NIMBY-ism. Not in my back yard.”
Ironically, the site of the new transfer station was the original site suggested 17 years ago.
“Over that period the cost of construction went up over $2.5 million,” said Sosnowski.
It wasn’t until six years ago that regional directors in the Elk Valley began concentrating on really working together and building bridges between the communities, said Sosnowski.
“We as communities in the Elk Valley have worked really hard in the last six years to pull together and we see that we can accomplish more working together than working against each other."