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Organic Waste Dump Slated for Botanie Valley Raises Concern

Metro Vancouver's "Zero Waste" plan may divert food scraps into rural BC

A proposed composting facility just north of Lytton has raised concern among residents, who say that, if built, the organic waste dump would threaten sensitive ecosystems and a rural way of life.

Residents of the Botanie Valley speculate that Northwest Organics is positioning itself to take advantage of Metro Vancouver’s Zero Waste Initiative, which calls for diversion of up 70 per cent of the region’s waste away from landfills by 2015.

“This is being built anticipating massive contracts with all the food waste,” said Abe Kingston, who grew up in the Botanie Valley. “Trucking it all the way up here, it's not a step in the right direction. I mean they truck a lot of garbage up here already; what needs to happen is for it to be dealt with locally,” he said.

Locals say the project could compromise air and water quality, congest local roads with heavy traffic, bring in invasive species and pests and impact soil quality. A report on the proposed project obtained* by the Vancouver Media Co-op confirms many of those concerns.

“I think people have a good idea what is happening and kind of what is going on at this point,” said Timshel Jackson, who is Kingston’s partner. “The main concern is discomfort. There’s a large issue with what they call bio-aerosols and just smells coming from the plant,” she said.

The Botanie Valley has been used by the Nlaka'pamux people for medicine gathering and sustenance for millennia. Members of the Nlaka'pamux nation and the Lytton First Nation traveled to the Lower Mainland in April to raise their concerns about the project in the context of a regional sustainability dialogue.

The facility has been proposed by Northwest Organics, who say their mission is to build a five-acre for-profit composting project on a 700-acre ranch the company acquired in the Botanie Valley area. Northwest Organics is a private corporation owned by the McRae family, who have provided waste removal services to the City of Vancouver. Ralph MacRae, also president of a beverage corporation, is listed by Forbes as having taken home half a million dollars in compensation last year.

The McRae family is certainly aware of the controversial nature of the proposal: its website includes responses to 51 questions raised at a meeting sponsored by the Lytton First Nation, many related to air and water pollution. Northwest Organics has employed an aggressive public relations campaign to assure residents that the project won’t cause any harm and is a progressive endeavour.

But the company, which has been in the region only since 2009, has already launched two lawsuits against people who oppose the project, including a member of the Lytton First Nation, who warned the company they were trespassing when their trucks passed through his reserve.

Residents say the project could house as many as 19,000 tons of compost every year. The company refutes the charges, but instead of clearing the air and making their business plan public, Northwest Organics responded, “This is a private initiative on private lands. We have shared our plans with Lytton First Nations Chief and Council.”

Back in the Bontanie Valley, residents are getting organized. In an area with an estimated population of 100, about 70 people have been turning up at assemblies dedicated to raising awareness about the proposed composting plant. Together, they’ve formed the Botanie Valley Advisory Committee to try to keep Northwest Organics out.

*As of 17:00 on May 11 the VMC received a letter from the law firm Nathanson, Schachter & Thompson LLP on behalf of Northwest Organics demanding that we remove the link to the report. VMC editors have sought legal counsel, and taken the link down in the interim.