Media: Markham backs away from landfill pilot project

Published on June 27 by Written by L.H. Tiffany Hsieh

United front. Markham residents, decked out in green, turned out at last night’s council meeting in an attempt to stave off plans for an aerobic bioreactor at an old landfill site in Thornhill. Susie Kockerscheidt
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Markham council has dumped a proposed aerobic bioreactor pilot project slated for the former Sabiston landfill in Thornhill.

However, the lush greenspace, better known as Settlers Park, is still short of a formal designation as a unique meadow and natural habitat — something the local councillor and the community had hoped they would achieve.
“No matter what it’s called, it’s German Mills’ natural habitat,” said Councillor Howard Shore, whose motion to kill the $500,000 aerobic test pilot received overwhelming support at last night’s meeting from residents who stormed council chambers clad in green shirts and carrying green flags.
Despite warnings from town staff that the formerly unregulated landfill can still pose ongoing risk to the community when it comes to methane gas production and leachate generation, residents who spoke at the meeting said nature is reclaiming the land where they want “endless disruptions” stopped once and for all.
“Local residents want nothing to do with the land, except to preserve it,” said Rigby Andrews of the newly formed Settlers Park Residents Association.
Mr. Andrews said while they understand the issue, the pilot is a “terrible waste of money” and will destroy the natural habit.
“Wrong project, wrong time, wrong place,” he said. “Nature’s working with us, not against us.”
However, while methane gas production has declined steadily and dramatically well below the 2.5 per cent compliance level set by the Environment Ministry since the landfill was closed nearly 40 years ago, readings taken last summer spiked from 4 to 14 per cent and 3 to 41 per cent last fall, according to Gary Adamkowski, Markham’s director of asset management.
“Explosion — it’s a possibility, however remote,” Mr. Adamkowski said.
He said the ministry was concerned enough to ask Markham to monitor methane levels at nearby houses and Bayview Golf and Country Club, “because they are at risk”.
Mr. Adamkowski said the proposed pilot would not have been a total disruption of the existing habitat.
Instead, he said it’s his understanding the aerobic bioreactor has the potential of stopping methane production “totally and immediately”.
“It’s rare to have one so near a residential development, but it’s not new at all,” he added. “It will be a healthier ecosystem. It may be different, but it’ll be healthier.”
But for Kimberly Seymour, who has a methane detector installed in her home, the pilot is an optional experiment that will affect people and wildlife.
“Believe me, it’s not a landfill, it’s a park,” she said.
No one would argue with that, said Mayor Frank Scarpitti.
However, the mayor, the only member of council to vote against what he called Mr. Shore’s “premature” motion, said it’s the town’s fiduciary responsibility to look after residents’ well-being.
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