WMI unit at center of Canadian garbage battle
TORONTO - A Canadian subsidiary of Houston-based Waste Management Inc. is at the centre of a growing controversy over a plan by Toronto, Canadas largest city, to dump its garbage in an environmentally sensitive area in northern Ontario.
Canadian Waste Services will own and operate the contested site if the project is approved.
Residents of the small Ontario town of Kirkland Lake and its surrounding area have blocked train tracks and protested at Torontos city hall against the proposed dumping of 1.3 million tonnes of trash a year at the Adams Mine.
The proposed landfill site is an abandoned open-pit iron mine that is now partly filled with water, about 600 kilometres (375 miles) northeast of Toronto. Garbage would be shipped by rail to the mine from Toronto, which has a population of about 3 million.
The project is expected to be approved by Toronto city council next week despite widespread opposition from local residents, politicians and environmentalists, who say sewage will leak from the site into pristine lakes, streams and forests.
The project has been in the works for about 10 years but the deal has been rushed through Toronto council in the last year. The left-of-centre New Democratic Party (NDP) charges thats because Waste Management has given the Conservative party, which governs Ontario, about C$74,000 in campaign donations. The Ontario government will make the final decision on operating permits at the landfill site.
The NDP said it obtained the donation figures from returns filed with Elections Canada.
Much of the opposition against the Adams Mine stems from environmental concerns that cracks in the rock formation will allow contaminated water to seep out and pollute local ground water.
Concern about water safety has been widespread in Ontario since wells in Walkerton, a southern Ontario farming town, were found to be tainted with an E.coli virus. Six people died as a result of the contamination.
NDP environmental critic Marilyn Churley said WMI should be denied operating permits for the Adams Mine project, adding the company and its subsidiaries are facing about $300 million in fines and lawsuits resulting from allegations of antitrust and environmental violations in the United States.
Company spokeswoman Sarah Peterson would not confirm nor deny the U.S. lawsuits and fines but acknowledged that there have been problems.
"We are aware of past problems, some of which were assumed in purchases and mergers, too often we have seen those issues exaggerated," Peterson said.
"You have to take it into perspective. Yes, we have had lawsuits (in the U.S.), theres no question about it. But... we have been very quick to resolve them and deal with them," said Garth Fowles, regional vice-president of Canadian Waste Services.
"Canadian Waste are absolutely environmentally sound in Canada...we
have an excellent record environmentally, as we do in the U.S."
Story by Tobi Cohen
REUTERS NEWS SERVICE
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