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Commentary
Former city council to blame for odious Orgaworld contract
By Fred Sherwin
Orléans Online

I couldn't help but shake my head when I read the recently released audit report on the city's source separated organics contract with Orgaworld, better known as the green bin program.

Nowhere in the report does the city's auditor general place any of the blame for the 20-year contract, which has so far cost taxpayers $7.7 million in just six years (and counting), on city council.

In fact, the report places all of the blame on senior staff in the Environmental Services Department, most of whom are no longer with the city. In his conclusion, Ken Hughes writes, "Management failed to provide appropriate information to Council, in order that Council could make an informed decision on such an important contract."

How convenient. The truth of the matter is that if council was misled, it was only because they allowed themselves to be misled.

If you go back in the time machine, you will discover that there were two key motivating factors behind the green bin program. The first motivating factor was the Province of Ontario's Waste Diversion Act which was passed in 2002 and gave municipalities six years to increase their waste diversion rate to 60 per cent. At the time the green bin program was approved Ottawa's waste diversion rate was only 35 per cent.

The other motivating factor, and one that was far less difficult to understand, is that the councillors were informed the green bin program would extend the estimated lifespan of the existing landfill site by up to 30 years. This was hugely important because the last thing any city council wants to debate is where to put another landfill site. They would have signed a contract with the devil himself if it meant not having to discuss another landfill site for the next 30 years. In fact, that little tidbit ofinformation alone, was all they needed to approve the Orgaworld contract.

I'm sure most of the councillors never even read the thing even though people like myself were warning that the contract was horrendous for the sole reason the 80,000 tonne minimum threshold, on which the contract was based on, had absolutley no basis in reality.

All you had to do was pull out a calculator and multiply the number of households in Ottawa by the capacity of each green bin to realize the absolute maximum was in the range of 45,000 to 50,000. But for some reason none of the councillors bothered to do the math, except for Gord Hunter who consistently argued against the program and the contract and was the only councillor who voted against it. In hind sight he was bang on, too bad his colleagues didn't listen to him, and that's why they must shoulder the lion's share of the blame for the mess we're currently in.

They were warned, but they didn't listen. The last time I checked the residents of Ottawa don't vote for the senior manager of the Environmental Services Department, or the deputy manager of waste diversion, they vote for their city council who they assume will safeguard their interest in all matters, including the provision of due dilligence in evaluating and voting on major contracts that will tie our hands for the next 20 years.

The counillors who approved the Source Separated Organics contract in 2008 did not due their due dilligence in assessing the deal. They failed in protecting the public's interest even when they were being warned by one of their colleagies and others that it was a flawed agreement.

They should have done their math. They should have gotten a second opinion. There are a number of retired and semi-retired civil engineers in Orléans who would have been more than happy to offer their services to review the contract. Their expertise was never solicited.

Instead, the former city council voted for a contract most of them never read let alone submit for independent review, and the taxpayers have been left on the hook for $7.7 million and counting.

One solution is to start collecting organic waste from restaurants and grocery stores. It was discussed in 2008 and again in 2010, but nothing has been done about it. Believe it or not, restaurant and grocery store organics is currently going to our landfill sites, which the Source Separated Organics program was supposed to prevent.

Once the restuarants and grocery stores are brought on board, the city can start sending leaf and yard waste back to the Trail Road composting site where it can be processed at a fraction of the cost the city is currently paying Orgaworld.

For one thing, leftovers and food scraps weigh a lot more than leaves and grass clippings, and for another there's a lot more of it which means we might finally reach the 80,000 tonne threshold.

This is not rocket science folks. The city is wasting close to $1 million every year on the organics program and nothing is being don about it. Even the auditor general's report, with its 10 recommendations, fails to address how the situation in terms of increasing the amount of organics being processed at Orgawourld might be improved.

There is no question that the green bin program was flawed from the get go, for no other reason than it dissuades the use of backyard composters because all the material that's going into them needs to be put into the green bins in order to meet the city's contractual obligation to Orgaworld.

For better or worse, the green bins are here to stay. The only issue that needs to be addressed is how can we as a city maximize the source separated organics program and the only way is through the collection of restaurant and grocery store organics. So let's get on with it already, and stop wasting taxpayers money.

(This story was made possible thanks to the generous support of our local business partners.)

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