Burning waste at Muskrat Falls blasted by Happy Valley-Goose Bay council

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The town of Happy Valley-Goose Bay says garbage being burned on the Muskrat Falls site should be disposed of in the town's landfill instead. 

"I think the primary concern here is over environmental issues and people's health and people that are downstream from Muskrat Falls," said Coun. Tony Chubbs, who also chairs the environment committee. 

Chubbs said the town initially asked for the waste to be diverted to the landfill in discussions with 2016 with Upper Lake Melville MHA Perry Trimper, who was minister of environment and climate change at the time.

It was told there was a permit issued by the provincial government to Nalcor for the burns to take place.

"It's not permitted anywhere else in the province," Chubbs said. "Our municipal landfill isn't allowed to burn. Mud Lake is supposed to phase out the use of incinerator over there to burn their waste garbage."

More than just wood

In a stakeholder update April 13, Nalcor said there have been five controlled burns this year and only waste wood and cardboard is burned.

It said there is no burning of chemically treated wood, food waste, plastics, or hazardous materials and there are no anticipated health and safety impacts to workers or the public.

Anectodal evidence from people who work at the site as well as photographs of the burns has Chubbs believing this isn't the case.

"We've had lots of complaints to councilors from residents that work on the site. They've indicated that there's materials other than that being burnt. There's pressure-treated material. A lot of plywood with glues into it," Chubbs said.

"Regardless of the material, it's creating atmospheric pollution and it's not something we want in our area when that can be easily mitigated by placing it into an approved landfill."

The town said there are three waste disposal sites in the Muskrat Falls area.

Chubbs said Nalcor started burning on site after the town raised non-resident tipping fees by 25 per cent.

"It's too much of a coincidence that they started burning over there at that time when we raised the tipping fees," he said.

"I think it's an economical decision what they've made, I don't think anybody wants to admit that but I think that's the brunt of it." 

In its stakeholder update, Nalcor said reducing the amount of waste that is trucked to the local landfill is the best option "from a safety, environment and cost perspective." 

Initial concerns

The provincial government said Nalcor initially decided to burn on site because the town was concerned that large volumes of waste would cause capacity issues at the landfill. 

"The volume of waste that is generated is below what was anticipated," Mayor Jamie Snook wrote to Minister Trimper late last year.

"In the interest of the environment and the fact that there will be no major impact on the lifespan of the municipal landfill, it would make more sense if this material was diverted to the landfill."

The provincial government has told the town to contact Nalcor directly if it wants the waste management agreement changed.