The long road to no burn

CARCROSS Whatever stops the garbage from burning, just do it -- and do it quickly, Carcross residents told officials during a public meeting on Wednesday night.

CARCROSS

Whatever stops the garbage from burning, just do it—and do it quickly, Carcross residents told officials during a public meeting on Wednesday night.

One man laid out a nightmare scenario of endless consultations and reports.

“We’re going to be mostly dead by the time anything happens,” he said.

Government representatives and environmental scientists visited the community as part of a five-week community tour to overhaul the territory’s solid-waste strategy.

No-burning discussions are nothing new to Carcross, said one of roughly 25 residents at the meeting.

The latest public meeting was “probably round six” in a long line of engineers and consultants sweeping through the town with promises of clean waste disposal, said another resident.

“Just tell us a solution is coming quickly; you’ll be more popular,” he said to government representatives.

“Let’s fast track this thing, rather than just studying the shit out of it again.”

For years, the Yukon government has ignored calls to ban garbage burning, calling it too expensive.

Only after Environment Canada, the Yukon Socio-Economic Environmental Assessment Board, and more than a dozen local councils had condemned the practice, did the Yukon government decide to consider “other” methods of trash disposal.

But a no-burn solution is still three years away, say Yukon government officials.

Garbage burning has persisted because it’s cheap.

On average, a garbage-burning facility costs $28,500 to maintain per year. A supervised transfer facility can cost up to $100,000.

Surprisingly, an unsupervised facility is more expensive because it costs a lot to pay a contractor to clean the area up.

“A site that’s open 24 hours a day, seven days a week—and unsupervised—you’re going to have problems there,” said Glenn Rudman, an environmental consultant with the Yukon government.

Sixteen Yukon communities currently put the torch to their waste. Most employ big, hulking burning vessels. Some just set it alight in an open pit.

Several communities, such as Mount Lorne and Marsh Lake, have already converted their dumps to no-burn facilities, but only after two years of battling with government officials.

“It seems like everybody who wants to catch up to the rest of the world has to fight with (the Department of) Community Services for two years,” said Mike Bailie, a director with the Mt. Lorne Garbage Management Society.

Converting burn dumps to non-burn dumps could cost as much as $9 million, with $2 million more per year in operational costs, Carcross residents were told.

“But those aren’t true costs,” someone remarked.

“It doesn’t include health-care costs, environmental damage—that’s all got to be a part of making a decision about this.”

“A study of that size would obviously cost a lot more money and take us a lot longer to do,” replied Rudman.

Turning trash into black smoke may be unbelievably toxic, but it releases fewer greenhouse gases, said Rudman.

The energy required to haul, segregate and bury waste in a landfill actually results in higher emissions, he said.

“The more you move waste around, generally the higher the carbon footprint,” said Rudman.

Rudman showed a graph that estimated that the total carbon emissions from all 16 burn dumps was equal to the emissions coming solely from the Marsh Lake and Mount Lorne transfer stations.

“You’re citing assumptions that are fairly shaky, for one thing, and assumptions multiplied by assumptions turn into some pretty bogus numbers,” said one man.

Located only 45 minutes away from Whitehorse, Carcross’ dump has become a prime target for the illegal dumping of construction waste.

Crooked contractors, aiming to avoid the tipping fees of other dumps, are notorious for making clandestine deposits into Carcross’ burn pit.

Nearby Deep Creek residents recently woke up to find 26 old cars abandoned at their dump.

The Yukon’s trash policy is particularly hard to renovate owing to its haphazard management structure.

“The Department of Environment deals with recycling; Community Services deals with the disposal and there’s gaps all over the place,” said Bailie.

“You can see the difficulty; who do you talk to?” he said.

Carcross’ clean-air future is between three main options, said officials.

Five new landfills could be spaced throughout the territory, and community members would be individually responsible in transporting their garbage to the nearest site.

“Easy to manage,” noted the PowerPoint slide.

Clean-burning incinerators could be installed to replace the low-temperature burn sites.

Or, five new landfills could be built, and each community would get its own supervised transfer station.

Located only 45 minutes away from the Whitehorse landfill, all signs point to Carcross converting into a transfer station.

“Just to be sure, my understanding is that, generally, people across Carcross want to see a no-burn,” said Rudman.

“Yesterday,” quipped somebody sitting in the front row.

Contact Tristin Hopper at

tristinh@yukon-news.com