RDCK officially begins Resource Recovery Plan Update planning process

Public consultation plan layed out, Consultant could take more control after key RDCK staff position altered.

On Wednesday June 7th the RDCK launched the planning process for its Resource Recovery Plan Amendment with their invite-only “small scale solutions” organics recovery workshop at the Chamber of Commerce building at Railtown in Nelson.  Two more workshops were held the next day including one for municipalities and first nations and one for major waste haulers and producers, such as grocers, restaurants, hospitals, etc..

The workshops are a part of a consultation process that will inform the  organics diversion portion of the Resource Recovery Plan Update.  The RDCK has also invited the public to fill out a survey, which includes one significant question on composting (rated 1 to 5):  “It is important to introduce programs for diverting food waste from the landfill, even if it increases user costs”.

Prior to the workshops, a questionnaire was also sent out to regional municipalities and waste haulers, which included questions aimed at gauging interest in hauling organics, likely a part of any centralized composting approach.

These activities were largely led by a consultant hired by the RDCK  – Duncan based Maura Walker and Associates who bills at $150/hour.   The RDCK will be paying that firm approximately $20,000  for 110 hours of work on the organics diversion portions of  the plan.  The 3 workshops last week, and associated tasks,  took up 36 hours of that time. The consultant may also have a separate contract to work on other aspects of the plan.

After this consultation process, the consultant will then produce potential scenarios for organics recovery and bring these to the Resource Recovery Plan Advisory Committee (RRPAC) for analysis and comment.  According to Walker, the RRPAC is a primary avenue for public consultation  portion of the plan development.  It consists  of various government, professional and community members, but is also open to the public.  Up until now, the committee has met infrequently and been relatively inactive. That may or may not change as we enter the planning phase of the Resource Recovery plan update.

Communications directed to the RDCK regarding the new plan are being directed to Travis Barrington, a new hire of the RDCK from Nanaimo.  He replaces Shari Imada,  who last year replaced Nicole Ward as Environmental Services Coordinator.  Barrington’s position, however, has a title that indicates a lowered tier – Resource Recovery Technician.  This may be reflected in his apparent lack of experience – he has worked as an environmental educator at a recycling facility in Nanaimo since his graduation from Vancouver Island College with a B.Sc..  It is unclear how the responsibilities of Barringtons’s position will differ from those of Imada who was to largely lead the Resource Recovery Update process.

If lack of relevant planning experience, lack of knowledge of local context, and lack of experience with the RDCK politics are any indication, Barrington will almost certainly not be expected to fully take the reigns from Imada.   Who will then?

Mike Morrison, Environmental Services Manager for the RDCK,  may be taking the wheel,  but it is also very likely  that the process will be weighted instead to the consultant, given lack of appropriate staff resources and Morrison’s existing workload.  A scenario with relatively unfettered consultant control could create issues though,  especially considering the limited time budgeted for the consultant to do a complex job,  and the fact that the consultant will be operating mostly  from Vancouver Island with limited knowledge of local context and reduced local management capacity.  The consultant also has numerous other projects ongoing.

The situation demands the question – as the planning process moves forward, will the new hire Barrington be more of an employee of the RDCK or more of an employee of the consultant, Maura Walker and Associates?  If the later, we can expect a plan almost entirely crafted outside of the Kootenays, with a mostly academic regional perspective. Local research  and involvement will be restricted to the few hours budgeted to pay the consultant, and be largely achieved remotely.

Limited time and funding may produce pressures to table a plan that defaults to the existing status quo – something that the RDCK has been directed to significantly improve upon.  Anything more evolved would require more time and funding from the consultant, or more work from appropriately experienced RDCK staff, which does not seem to currently exist unless it is done by Mike Morrison.  A danger exists that if a weak plan is tabled and promoted, it may be more a reflection of the lack of will and capacity from the RDCK (and the consultant)  than what is  economically or environmentally good for the Kootenays.  The same could be true for the will of municipal governments to participate in a significant plan, since they would be an essential partner for the RDCK for any significant regional composting endeavor.