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Stop The Stink in Richmond: Results!

An article explaining the fallout from the Environmental Appeal Board hearings in which Arnold Shuchat participated and lead plaintiff evidence for our group, Stop The Stink in Richmond.More...

Harvest Power’s stinky composting firm fined a record $300,000

Fine unlikely to be paid in full because of way parent company structured subsidiary: official

 

 

A record-setting $300,000 pollution fine has been levied against a shuttered Vancouver area energy-to-waste composting company that was once heavily subsidized by taxpayers but is now under creditor protection.

Avoiding potentially millions of dollars in fines for emitting pungent odours across the region, Harvest Fraser Richmond Organics Ltd., a subsidiary of U.S. company Harvest Power, agreed in B.C. Provincial Court to pay $300,000 for polluting on Nov. 17 and Nov. 25, 2016, for violations of Metro Vancouver Regional District’s air quality bylaw.

 
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The two $150,000 fines are the biggest in Metro Vancouver history but are unlikely to be paid in full because of the way the parent company structured the subsidiary, said Ray Robb, Metro Vancouver’s manager of air quality of enforcement. In fact, the parent company is one of many creditors.

Robb added the settlement stipulated that Metro Vancouver allow the company to change its name to 00891775 B.C. Ltd., which the provincial court system will register when posting the Feb. 22, 2019, court order.

Robb said Metro Vancouver was to charge Harvest with dozens of counts of pollution, which carried fines of up to $1 million per day. The district had evidence of pollution from Sept. 1, 2016, to Nov. 16, 2016, as well as the two days noted in the settlement.

But, said Robb, it was those two days that were a “slam dunk” for the district as there were environmental officers in the field collecting evidence, numerous complaints from Richmond residents were received and the wind didn’t change all day, which made it easy to pinpoint the source of the odour.

“I regret that the community suffered pollution from this source but I am thankful to the many residents that agreed to testify for the prosecution and believe that the substantial fines agreed to were in large part due to the anticipated testimony from the residential witnesses,” said Robb, via email.

“It is hoped that these fines will act as a substantial deterrent against other potential polluters in future,” he added.

It was shortly after those two days that, in December 2016, Harvest Power’s then-CEO, Christian Kasper, came to Richmond for a large town hall meeting, promising to defuse the stink emanating from massive open air piles of food waste that grew and grew after the district banned food scraps from landfills in 2015.

Over the course of 2017, residents continued to suffer a loss in quality of life, and those with respiratory conditions had more noticeable effects – although there was no medical risk from the odours, according to Vancouver Coastal Health.

But in August 2018 the company abandoned its plans and announced it would wind down operations as it filed for protection under the Companies’ Creditors Arrangement Act.

Filing for creditor protection came as local residents, led in part by realtor Arnold Shuchat, took the company to the Environmental Appeal Board (EAB) to oppose a new air quality permit issued to it. Simultaneously the company fought the permit, claiming a “sniff test” by officials was unscientific. It also tried to forgo provincial regulations because it was situated on federal land. The EAB has yet to file a ruling on its findings, although Robb considers it a moot point now that the facility in East Richmond is closed.

Agreeing with Robb’s future outlook based on the record fine, Shuchat said, “Hopefully it will have a preventative effect on anyone contemplating polluting the air in the way that Harvest did.”

Shuchat called the multi-year ordeal a result of poor planning and political foot-dragging by politicians at Richmond city hall.

“They were forced to participate [in an EAB appeal of the permit] as a result of our group,” he said. “It was our citizens’ group that adduced the evidence.”

In 2017 the City of Richmond stopped sending its organic waste to Harvest and chose to divert it to Delta-based Enviro-Smart Organics.

And now, Robb said, Delta residents are in a “very similar circumstance” with their open-pile facility.

As with Harvest in Richmond, a recently issued air quality permit for Enviro-Smart establishes a perimeter for allowable odours. In this case it is a two-kilometre perimeter around the east Ladner facility and if the stench is detectable for more than four days in a two-week period, Robb has the authority to halt waste deliveries, as he did a number of times with Harvest.

Robb said the EAB could make a ruling that affects Enviro-Smart operations in the future.

Robb said the district is trying to find new places to put the “green” waste.

How Harvest came to be:

Harvest Power entered the organic waste fray in Metro Vancouver in 2009, when it purchased Fraser Richmond Soil and Fibre, which had largely handled landscaping waste since 1993.

Harvest Power received a $5 million grant from the federal Clean Energy Fund to help bankroll its high solids anaerobic digestion facility (the “energy garden,”) touted as the company’s “best-in-class” technology to turn biogas into electricity. 

It got another $2 million from Metro Vancouver for improvements and $500,000 plus a $1 million loan from the provincial government in 2012.

“This energy garden will not only create B.C. jobs, it will provide a blueprint for other waste-to-energy projects in B.C., Canada and the U.S.,” said Minister of Energy and Mines Rich Coleman, at the time.


gwood@glaciermedia.ca

Heritage Property: Fixing the Fix

An article printed in the Vancouver Sun by now retired journalist Peter McMartin, illustrating effective Realtor engagement in expediting change to the City of Vancouver's complicated and expensive heritage development processMore...
Pete McMartin: Heritage preservation: fixing the fix
Arlen Redekop/PNG Protesters gathered at the Legg Mansion in the West End May 25 to protest the planned demolition of the heritage house. The city of Vancouver is taking action next week to find ways to give its departments greater latitude in dealing with heritage homes to ease the financial burden of preservation on homeowners. ARLEN REDEKOP / PNG

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Arnold Shuchat, a realtor, wrote me the other day about heritage preservation in Vancouver. It’s a hot topic these days, given the growing pace of demolitions of older character homes, especially on Vancouver’s west side, and Shuchat was responding to a column earlier this week in which I asked the question, who pays for that preservation?

At the moment, Shuchat is acting as agent for a property in Vancouver that is on the Heritage B list. To be designated as such, a site must represent “a good example of a particular style or type, either individually or collectively” and “may have some documented historical or cultural significance in a neighbourhood.”

The house is turn-of-the-century, three storeys and on a 50 by 125 foot lot. It’s a duplex with tenants. It’s an estate sale.

At the moment, the asking price is $2.2 million. There have been, Shuchat said, numerous offers, which, because of confidentiality concerns, Shuchat said he could not discuss. Presumably, those offers haven’t been to the seller’s liking.

 

A common thread in the potential buyers’ queries about the property, Shuchat said, concerns the site’s heritage designation. They want to know (a) the ramifications of that designation and (b) will they be allowed to tear it down if they so wish.

The answer to (b) is: yes. Any property in Vancouver can be demolished if a buyer so wishes, even if that property is on a heritage list. The city cannot stop demolition, though it will negotiate to dissuade a buyer from doing so.

But Shuchat believes a heritage designation affects the dynamic of the selling process, nonetheless. And it may, he wrote, adversely affect the selling price.

 

There is not only the cost of preserving a heritage house to be considered, that is if one chooses to preserve it; there is also the question of the very limited incentives the city can provide to convince an owner to do so.

“Just how much leniency,” Shuchat asks in his email, “is required to encourage an owner of a 50-foot-wide by 125 foot deep to opt for heritage conservation?”

Well, the answer is, more than city hall is offering now. The city can grant a density bonus to the buyer, and allow the new owner to increase the floor space ratio on the property — add a lane house or a basement rental suite, say. But this could mean changing the original home’s footprint, which for most ordinary homeowners would be an onerous cost.

 

There is also the added, and sometimes very expensive, costs of bringing the property up to 21st century code standards. New insulation, new windows, rewiring — it all costs money.

Finally, the process of heritage preservation is so cumbersome and so fraught with red tape that many buyers are frustrated by it and simply walk away.

“On the surface,” Shuchat wrote, “it might be a neat idea. Practically speaking however, it is not that simple. The various departments at City Hall are still charged with administering their own priorities such as architectural context, relative height, setbacks, relative density, tree preservation, parking requirements etc … and there is no overriding administrative policy of leniency which would cause each of these departments in the ordinary course of their administration to hasten with a sense of urgency and remove these usual barriers so as to assist with a heritage matter.”

 

The result: The seller takes a hit in price, the buyer, if at all interested in preservation, must face a complicated and expensive process.

“Let’s call a spade a shovel,” Shuchat wrote. “What we have here with this Heritage Policy as it currently works, is a disguised expropriation without compensation of an owner’s property.”

In an example of refreshing bureaucratic candor, Brian Jackson, the city’s director of planning, concurred.

“To be honest,” Jackson said, “I would tend to agree with him, and with council’s instruction, I am sitting down with staff next week — the meeting is already booked — to go over how we can simplify matters and expedite the process.

 

“Our current process is far too cumbersome, and we’ve got to fix it, and we’re going to fix it fast. We have to make it the easiest process possible.”

The city’s various departments, he said, would be instructed to deal with their various facets in the heritage process as quickly as possible. The city will also begin to exercise greater discretion with the building code so as to lessen the financial burdens of preservation on homeowners — Jackson called it allowing “alternative solutions.” New windows might not have to meet the strict requirements they did before, or new insulation might be waived. The idea of the new direction, Jackson said, is to encourage preservation, but not in so rigid a way that it’s financially punitive.

The planning department will also be looking at what other jurisdictions around North America offer homeowners as incentives, he said. Many cities in the U.S., for example, offer tax holidays, federal tax writeoffs and even grants.

“We have very limited tools for compensation,” Jackson said.

All in all, it was a frank admission, and a welcome one. Heritage preservation is a worthy pursuit but it comes at a cost.

Good on city hall for finally realizing that.

pmcmartin@vancouversun.com

 

 
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