Rural Dewdney residents were shocked to learn this week that a private company intends to truck Metro Vancouver’s municipal-waste sludge onto a local property.
Approximately 30 locals, multiple Leq’á:mel First Nation representatives, and the Fraser Valley Regional District’s (FVRD) elected area representative gathered near the property at the intersection of Bell and Hawkins Pickle roads on May 10.
Most had only heard about the project by word-of-mouth after Arrow Environmental Services (AES) posted public notices to some neighbours’ doors.
“Nobody was notified. There was no public input,” said Helen Morton, a nearby resident. “Would you want human waste piled up beside you?”
AES – a subsidiary of Arrow Transportation Systems – has partnered with Fraser Valley Aggregates to reclaim a former gravel extraction site and use it for agricultural production, according to the company’s notice.
They intend to use “biosolids,” a byproduct of the sewage-treatment process, as fertilizer to create various products under the trademark NutriGrow.
Locals all have serious concerns about the smell, and potential contamination of the groundwater, according to Morton, while farmers are worried about the long-term effects on the ecosystem from the buildup of nitrates, iron and copper.
She said they all use wells dependent on the same aquifer, including the local elementary school, and a local salmon spawning channel is nearby.
The recent construction work on the property’s road ahead of any notice makes the project seem underhanded, Morton said.
The approval and regulation of the project falls outside local municipal jurisdiction, said Al Stobbart, FVRD’s director for Area G, adding he only learned about it last Thursday (May 5).
“This is straight provincial,” he said, noting use of biosolids fall under the Agricultural Land Commission’s accepted practices. “We’re trying to ensure that best practices are adhered to.”
Al Stobbart, his constituents, and the Leq’á:mel representatives, eventually met with an AES manager on May 10.
“A lot of the residents were rightfully angered,” Stobbart said. “It was a difficult time.”
Metro Vancouver’s biosolids have been used safely as a fertilizer for over 30 years, and often used to reclaim areas disturbed by mining activity, landfills and gravel pits, according to an email from an AES spokesperson.
They said AES is committed to transparency with local residents, even though they are not required to under provincial regulations.
“When we initiated road building work a couple of days ago to prepare for the project to start, it became apparent some members of the local community have unanswered questions,” the spokesperson said.
“We are fully committed to working through these in advance of beginning work … During this time, operations at the site will be idled.”