Next phase of Nanaimo's automated garbage rollout shrouded by uncertainty

By Spencer Sterritt
January 18, 2018 - 5:49pm

NANAIMO — Details about the next phase of Nanaimo's automated garbage program are as murky and unclear as the water you'll find at the bottom of your compost bin.

A staff report brought before City Council on Monday, Jan. 15, titled “Update on automation project Phase 1,” raised more questions than it answered.

Three of the six paragraphs in the report detailed the previously discussed issue of the project being more than $440,000 over-budget, due to changes to the fleet of automated garbage trucks and the purchase of more bins.

“Staff acknowledge that failure to advise Council of adjustments to the Sort-Toss-Roll program was an error,” the report said. The report was co-written by Charlotte Davis, the manager of sanitation and public works administration, who oversaw implementation of phase one.

She was let go from the City a week after the cost overages were revealed and then re-hired for the same position less than three weeks later.

What will the final cost be?

The amount Nanaimo households will pay for automated garbage collection was called into question during the meeting.

Chief administrative officer Tracy Samra said an implementation plan being drafted for the phase two roll out of automated garbage will address any possible changes to user fees.

“Depending on how the contingency plans are for the metrics we get from phase one, and looking at phase two, there may be a change to the user rates,” she told Council.

Bill Sims, director of public works and engineering, told Council he's optimistic any changes and developments will remain behind the scenes.

“We're still on track to order the trucks and have them here in early spring and to have the carts start rolling out in late spring.”

NanaimoNewsNOW asked if the user rates were anticipated to rise or drop in 2018 and if the already anticipated drop to $130 in 2019 was still in effect.

“This will be examined more closely with the planning for Phase two,” Sims replied in an email. “Too early to say.”

Nanaimo taxpayers are already paying 63 per cent more for garbage collection in 2018 compared to rates at the beginning of 2017.

Where will our yard and food waste go?

A challenged raised in the staff report is the “impact of the Regional District of Nanaimo not entering into the anticipated contract with Nanaimo Organic Waste Inc.”

The contract in question is detailed in a RDN staff report from March 15, 2017, which said the company Nanaimo Organic Waste requested a 20-year contract extension with the district to ensure they had the money to proceed with capital upgrades to their site. The company had already successfully worked with the RDN for several years.

The staff report said the upgrades were necessary since the company would be handling the mixture of yard and kitchen waste from Nanaimo's new automated garbage program.

Larry Gardner, manager of solid waste services with the RDN, said he and other invested parties like the City of Nanaimo had hoped the negotiations with Nanaimo Organic Waste Inc. would be farther along than they currently are.

“That's what we've been working on and I'm hoping to come back to the board over the next couple of months,” he said. “The timelines aren't meshing as well as had been hoped.”

Chief administrative officer Tracy Samra told City Council on Monday the decision to move ahead with automated garbage was based on the assumption the contract negotiations would have finished over the summer of 2017.

“Unfortunately, in October, City staff learned the contract wasn't in place and alternatives need to be looked at,” she said.

The RDN staff report said Nanaimo Organic Waste was the only local option for co-mingled yard and kitchen waste, with the nearest facility in the Capital Regional District. Though it would be a several hour trip sending RDN waste down to southern Vancouver Island, it was expected to cost roughly the same.

Though the role of Nanaimo Organic Waste in the future of Nanaimo's automated garbage program is unclear, director of engineering and public works Bill Sims said they've managed to handle the kitchen and yard waste collected during phase one of the program.

Sims declined a telephone interview and did not reply to further questions about the Nanaimo Organic Waste contract by deadline.

How did everyone get their new bins?

The Jan. 15 staff report to Nanaimo council also mentioned concerns raised by CUPE Local 401 regarding how the roughly 22,000 carts were delivered to central Nanaimo homes during phase one.

It's an issue quickly mentioned by coun. Bill Yoachim during an earlier Finance and Audit Committee meeting on Nov. 23, 2017.

Yoachim said when his new bins were dropped off at his house, “these definitely weren't union guys in my driveway.”

Since it was a topic involving labour relations, it was quickly suggested Yoachim's question would be answered in-camera at the meeting. It hadn't been brought up since as relations between the City and the union deteriorated.

When asked, Sims said negotiations with CUPE Local 401 wasn't expected to have an impact on the final user fee paid by Nanaimo residents for the new automated garbage program.

The Union is expected to file a grievance over the phase one delivery process.


[email protected]

On Twitter: @spencer_sterrit

Man sentenced after dangerous stand-off with Nanaimo Mounties