The Friends of the Mer Bleue Inc – October 2018
The history: a detailed background from our founding President
It all started on Mother’s Day May 11, 1997. How do I know the exact date? It is because the landfill at 3354 Navan Rd., then Huneault, had its leachate holding ponds turn septic. The smell was unbelievable. Leachate is the liquid material that drains from land or stockpiled material and contains significantly elevated concentrations of undesirable material derived from the material that it has passed through. A group of us, including Edwin Morton and Cherrill Boyer, got together and formed what eventually came to be known as The Friends of the Mer Bleue. Our motto at the time was “Stop the Stench-Close the Dump”. After much pressure on our part, the City of Gloucester and the landfill owner agreed to form the first public advisory committee. We were successful in getting the leachate trucked off site and disposed of at the Picard waste treatment center. This was not a perfect solution, as anyone who ever travelled behind one of the tanker trucks could attest to. However, it was certainly an improvement, as it got rid of the stench coming from the landfill. Eventually, a pipe line was constructed taking the leachate directly from the site to the sewer pumping station in Bradly Estates.
Things were relatively quiet in the neighborhood until late 2005 when then WSI announced their intention to expand the site by putting forward 5 options. This caught everyone by surprise, including our provincial representatives, as we were all under the impression, based upon what we had been told by the prior owner, that the landfill was scheduled to close right around that time. However, since there was nothing in writing, WSI was within its right to apply for an extension. WSI, given all their resources, did an excellent job in their expansion presentations. The regulatory bodies, like the MOE, the provincial government or the City, that we assumed would act to protect the community, basically told us that if we did not like the proposals it was up to us to do something about it.
One good thing about a major issue is that it brings the community together in a hurry. Many people either joined the executive or assisted in the opposition efforts. However, we felt totally outgunned as we were a small community organization without resources going up against a very large and well-funded company. We lobbied the City for assistance and received a grant of $75,000 which really helped us mount a formidable opposition.
On top of doing a tremendous amount of research, writing letters and meeting with many other groups and organizations, we held public meetings, went to local fairs to solicit signatures on a petition and put up large 8’ X 8’ signs showing the proposed expansion as compared to the CN Tower. We even rented a hot air balloon which we had floating in the air to demonstrate how high the largest proposed expansion would actually be. We hired Birchill Northy, a team of environmental lawyers, who provided excellent guidance and assisted us in preparing a presentation for the City of Ottawa council members. One of the lawyers and I spent the entire summer of 2006 meeting with most of the City council members and any other politicians that would see us. We attempted to make them understand that expanding a landfill located in the middle of an expanding residential community, which had limited vehicular access, was a bad idea.
Based upon feedback we received from both the City, the MOE and our MPP, we were led to believe that, in spite of our best efforts, the landfill owner was going to be successful in its expansion application. There was absolutely no legal reason that we were able to find, that would have prevented the owner from being successful. From a regulatory perspective, it is much easier to expand an existing site than open a new one. However, our efforts must have had an impact because WSI approached us and asked if we could reach a compromise. We laid out a list of some 13 conditions that they would have to agree to in order for us to cease our opposition. Some of the key conditions were that they would:
– only apply for the smallest of the five expansion options,
– absolutely close and cease any operations on that site once that capacity had been reached,
– provide a property value protection program for those living in proximity to the landfill prior to the expansion, and
– provide FOMB with $.44 per ton of material going to the landfill site to be used for community projects.
Both the agreement of April 2007 and the property value protection plan are available on the FOMB web site.
The City was heavily involved as well and, thanks to the assistance of our then councillor Rainer Bloess and his assistant Donna Leith Gudbranson, many motions were submitted and passed at the City expressing support for our agreement between WSI and the FOMB. In addition, the City agreed to undertake a two-year study of institutional, commercial and industrial (ICI) waste in the City. Little did Edwin and I know that this would involve us for the next two years. However, we now both know far more than we ever wanted to about garbage.
Just when one fire gets extinguished another seems to pop up. An individual decided he would open a quarry type operation where the golf course now exists (corner of Navan Road and Mer Bleue Rd.). This was an extensive operation, complete with numerous rock crushers, conveyors, bulldozers, excavators and of course lots of noise, dust and truck traffic. This also was an extensive battle that we were compelled to take all the way to the Ontario Municipal Board. Thankfully, we were successful. Instead of noise from all that equipment, the community is now only exposed to the occasional shout from an unhappy golfer.
The dust, so to speak, had hardly settled from the quarry operation when a company called Millen decided it would start an industrial, commercial and institutional waste recycling station immediately adjacent to the WSI landfill on Navan Rd. There were many concerns with this operation, not the least of which that it violated the zoning and was felt to be redundant given that the landfill performed the same function. This is one battle that we lost primarily due to the fact that our councillor, Rainer Bloess, much to the puzzlement of the community, aggressively supported Millen’s proposal and the required zoning change. As one council member at the time said “the city can never have too many landfill sites as long as they are not in my Ward”. Given that the ward councillor supported the proposal, only one of the other councillors voted against it. Sadly, all of the concerns we expressed at the time have come to pass. Millen has gone out of business and cleaning up the site has become the responsibility of one of the developers.
Even with that minor setback, we have seen many good things come to fruition in our community since the FOMB was formed. In addition to help making our community a better place to live by representing the interests of its constituents, the FOMB facilitates and supports the working together of our community associations, administers the Host Community Fund and oversees the landfill operation through the Public advisory Committee.
FOMB has funded numerous community projects, provides a 2 000$ annual scholarship to a student in each of the local high schools and supports local community associations. More detailed information is available on the FOMB web site.
Communities will always face challenges and it is vitally important that organizations, such as the Friends of the Mer Bleue, exist to represent the interests of the community in those circumstances. It is also vitally important that there are members of the community willing to take time out of their busy lives to work for the betterment of others.
It has been my great privilege to work with wonderful people over the years whose sole focus is helping others in the community. I step down knowing that regardless of who is in charge there is a mechanism in place that will see the FOMB continue to serve the community for many years to come.