Polluters to pay under new bylaw after Vancouver residents raise a stink

Steve Mertl
·National Affairs Contributor

I grew up in southeast Calgary a short walk from the city's stockyards, a meat-packing plant and a poultry-processing facility.

There were times the air got a little thick in my school which was downwind when it blew from the south. The pongy smell of cattle pens, the slaughterhouse and the chicken factory got bad enough sometimes that the windows had to be closed.

So I can empathize with residents of the east-side Vancouver neighbourhood dealing with the nasty smells coming from a nearby rendering plant.

Hot summer weather apparently has made the odours coming from the plant near Hastings Street and Commercial Drive especially obnoxious, reportedly driving some from their patios and creating a spike in complaints to Metro Vancouver authorities, CBC News reports.

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It's spurred the drafting of a new odour bylaw allowing the municipal government to charge companies for the cost of addressing complaints and fixing the problem.

"Residents have a right to acceptable air quality no matter where you live," Ray Robb, Metro Vancouver's environmental regulation manager, told CBC News. "And the company certainly has a right to operate, but they don't have the right to adversely impact people's quality of life."

Metro Vancouver already has an air quality regulatory program, with a permitting system to manage emissions from a range of facilities.

The Globe and Mail reports the new bylaw will force industries to pay in accordance to the odours they emit.

The culprit this time was West Coast Reduction Ltd., whose plant at the north end of Commercial Drive renders more than 10,000 tonnes of animal byproducts weekly into useable products such as animal-food ingredients and tallow for soap.

Robb told the Globe that 50 people called to complain last weekend when temperatures hit 28 C, one-quarter the number his office normally gets all year.

"That's 50 people that have gotten so fed up that they've gone to the trouble of figuring out who to phone and giving us a call," Robb said.

Suburban Richmond composter Fraser Richmond Soil and Fibre generates a similar number of complaints annually, Robb said.

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Vancouver and its suburbs have always played host to agriculture within their boundaries but Robb said the region needs better odour-management and polluter-pay rules as it shifts to more sustainable industries.

Under the new bylaw, which could be in place before next summer, processing plants would be assigned a risk category based on how close they are to homes and the type of product they deal with.

Low-risk facilities, such as farms and small yard-waste composting operations, would be automatically granted permits, and medium-risk operations that handle some non-green waste would need to submit a management plan and face fees of up to $2,000 a year, the Globe said.

High-risk facilities, such as rendering plants and large-scale composters, would need a permit and detailed plan for measuring odours and dispersing them. They could be charged fees of up to $150,000 a year.

Since Metro Vancouver now spends between $100,000 and $300,000 a year following up on complaints, the new system would shift the financial cost onto the polluters, Robb said.