Freedom of Infomation Requests

Note: With a few exceptions, I am going through the Freedom of Information documents from the oldest to the newest so I can better understand how the bio-digester “evolved.” Since I am adding the new information on the top of the page, new visitors may wish to scroll down to the bottom of this page and then work towards the top.

December 29: Three engineering reports on recommended changes

The first of the three reports is titled Feasibility Study to Improve Septage Receiving and Increase Power to 340 kW (4.8 MB) and is dated February 10, 2012.

Section 1.0 of this report states: The treated digestate storage that was originally constructed was 850 m3 (cubic metres), however, it was found that more storage was needed at the existing facility and for expansion to 340 kW. Therefore, in October 2011, an additional 5,630 m3 of digestate storage was added to the facility.

It’s “water under the bridge” now, of course, but adding 6.5 times more storage after just a few months of of operation must point to a serious deficiency in the original plan. I will attempt to track down how much the extra storage cost in due course.

Section 4.0 describes the problems experienced to that date; none of these problems have anything to do with increasing the generating capacity to 340 kW. The first couple of sentences state clearly that compromises were made in the initial design to reduce costs. Furthermore, it is obvious that a lot of assumptions were made that proved to be “optimistic” (for example, the evident problems created by trash in the septage that would need to be screened out, stored somewhere and then transported to landfill).

Cost figures are provided in Section 10. The estimate of cost was about $677,000 for receiving and storage (particulars regarding the work related to this are shown in Table 2A), and about $1.14 million for costs associated with increasing the electrical generating capacity.

It is astonishing to me that the Joint Committee was evidently considering expanding the generating capacity while still experiencing major problems related to receiving and storage; one would think that it would make more sense to get the “sewage treatment” part working like a fine Swiss watch, then MAYBE consider expanding …

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The second report is titled Facilities to Improve Septage Receiving and Trash Removal (16 KB) and is dated August 2013.

Note: I reviewed the complete report in person at the Georgian Bluffs office on October 29, 2014, but I copied only the page that shows the scope of work that was evidently thought to be required at that time. (For interest, at least, I should also have copied the page or pages, if any, that provided cost estimates.)

Section 1.2 of this report provides a list of anticipated work that looks similar to the list provided in the above-noted Table 2A of the 2012 report. Therefore, it would appear that the scope of work hadn’t changed much from what was thought to be necessary about 18 months earlier. This is not to say that the estimated costs wouldn’t have been higher, however.

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The third report (147 KB) was contained in the Agenda package for the Bio-Digester meeting that was held on December 19, 2014.

You will find my report on that meeting under the Bio-Digester Meetings tab where I state:

WSP (Genivar), the former engineering consultant to the Joint Board, prepared a report on deficiencies as a condition related to full payment of one of their old invoices. The report does not include any estimated costs. Even so, I expect this report to be a valuable source of information for the engineering study authorized by the Chatsworth Council.

November 27: Meetings with Septage Haulers

Yesterday, I said I would have further comments on the August 13, 2010 meeting with septage haulers.

The people who are in the business of pumping septic tanks perform a vital service for the residents of Chatsworth and Georgian Bluffs. It stands to reason, therefore, that the views of these people about the bio-digester, especially with regard to the possibility of enforcing its use through some sort of by-laws in the townships, would carry some weight.

Haulers were evidently invited to a meeting about the bio-digester on August 13, 2010. I have not seen a copy of the invitation or letter that may have been sent out prior to that meeting, but here are the minutes of that meeting.

Public meetings about a proposed by-law to force use of the bio-digester were called for July 16, 2014 and for July 23, 2014 in Chatsworth. I was present at the first of these meetings which was attended by two haulers; at the moment, I do not know whether one or more haulers attended the second public meeting in Chatsworth on July 23, 2014. [Note: I sent an email to Clerk/CAO Will Moore today that said: “The minutes of the regular Council meetings of July 16 and July 23 both say that “Minutes of the Public Meetings are under separate cover” but I cannot find them anywhere on the website. Will you please either provide the link(s) to them, or send copies?” I will post these minutes when they are made available to me.]

The minutes of the August 13, 2010 meeting record the following key points:

1. The haulers wanted it made clear that they were not responsible for the additional costs (tanks are typically between 4 and 5 cubic metres, so the tipping fee that was set at $25/cubic metre would add $100-$125 to the cost for residents in Chatsworth and Georgian Bluffs).

2. The haulers evidently pointed out the need to ensure they could gain access after normal municipal hours (the solution proposed for this was/is a cardlock system).

3. It would appear that the townships were adding some responsibilities related to ‘quality assurance’ onto the haulers for waste not suitable for the bio-digester. It is not clear from the minutes that the townships had given any thought to how this might be implemented or managed.

4. Although the bio-digester was not yet even in service, the concept of reduced tipping fees as a means of subsidizing certain businesses was discussed.

5. The obviously important matter of off-loading times was discussed.

6. The haulers pointed out the desirability of a “transition” period of some sort, and also that the requirement for long-distance (one hour was mentioned) trucking of septage takes away from the claim that the bio-digester is “green.”

I attended the public meeting on July 16, 2014 in Chatsworth. Pending receipt of the minutes of that meeting from CAO/Clerk Moore in response to my emailed request today, the main concern I recall being stated by the haulers in attendance had to do with receiving facilities with which they had already experienced problems. I had heard this concern expressed on a number of previous occasions at meetings of the Joint Management Committee that I attended.

November 26, 2014: Approvals and Construction

On December 16, 2009, the consultant produced a single-page document titled Scope of Work – Septage Biodigester. At a meeting on that same day, Chatsworth Council passed Motion 321/2009 that enabled construction to begin. The Council of Georgian Bluffs passed a similar motion.

The Award Letter from the consultant to the contractor was sent on December 21, 2009. Note that the cost that had been estimated in May at $2.7 million was now $3,151,099 plus GST.

The kick-off construction meeting was held on January 26, 2010 (minutes here) at which time it was thought that construction would begin in early April, 2010. The Final Design Brief referred to in that meeting was evidently completed by the consultant shortly afterwards.

The contract with Maple Reinders Constructors Ltd was signed on February 26, 2010. It shows a total cost of $3,308,654.28 (including GST in the amount of $157,554.97).

Construction meetings were held approximately monthly (April 29 minutes, May 27 minutes, June 29 minutes, July 20 minutes, August 19 minutes, and September 16 minutes).

At a Chatsworth Council meeting on August 4, 2010, Motion 213/2010 authorized borrowing “up to $1,200,000 for financing of the Township of Chatsworth’s share of the Biodigester.”

On August 13, the two townships held a meeting with septage haulers (minutes here). I will have more to say about the discussion at that meeting as recorded in the minutes within the next couple of days.

Funding for the bio-digester was discussed at a Chatsworth Council meeting on September 1, 2010. Motion 225/2010 of that meeting authorized changes to the already-approved township budget.

November 25, 2014: Letting Taxpayers in on the Plans

The last item in the minutes of the fourth Design Meeting (Sept 11, 2009) at which the tender process was discussed and agreed, states that there would be a public meeting on October 1, 2009 in Keady.

By this time, taxpayers of the Township of Chatsworth had been told nothing, even though: 1) we had been making payments to the consultant since sometime in 2006; 2) a decision had been made to build a bio-digester; 3) the design was more-or-less complete; 4) an application for partial funding from both Canada and Ontario had been submitted and approved; 5) a schedule had been prepared; and 6) tender documents were ready to go.

Obviously, there was no purpose for a public meeting at this point except “for show.”

This made a mockery of the concept of transparency, and was almost completely at odds with this Ministry of Municipal Affairs and Housing process for deciding and evaluating services which stresses the importance of early public involvement.

The notices and information provided were as follows: notice of public meeting and media invitation dated Sept 25, together with an attachment; project summary probably distributed at the public meeting at Keady on Oct 1; and notice of ground-breaking ceremony and media invitation dated Oct 28.

November 19, 2014: Design meetings in the spring and summer of 2009

After the Build Canada grant application was approved, the parties met regularly in a series of “design meetings,” the first of which was held on June 16, 2009 (minutes here). At that meeting, the consultant handed out the proposed schedule.

The Chatsworth Council met on the next day. Points 5 and 6 of motion 155/2009 in the minutes of that meeting state:

“5. Georgian Bluffs and Chatsworth agree to finalize an agreement on the construction, invoicing, project management, acceptance, maintenance and operation of the Bio-digester, including revenue sharing, based on the principle that both Townships share equally in the risk and/or reward from the Bio-digester Facility.

6. That the CAO/Clerk Administrators bring back an agreement for execution by the Council’s of the Townships.”

I am of the view that the February 2, 2011 Agreement does not reflect the principle in point #5 (that I highlighted in bold font) because it transfers to Chatsworth half of all costs associated with sewage originating in the Sunset Strip.

The second design meeting was held on July 3 (minutes here) and the third one on August 10 (minutes here).

The fourth meeting was held on September 11 (minutes here). The minutes make reference to a public meeting to be held at Keady in the evening of October 1, 2009.

Agenda Item #2 of the Sept 11 meeting states that the final Design Brief was tabled. I did not receive a copy of this document in response to my FOI request to Chatsworth, but I reviewed a copy of it at the Georgian Bluffs office on October 29, 2014.

Because the Sept 2009 Design Brief turned out to be superseded by a later version (dated February 2010), it is not of much importance except to the extent that it shows how the design “evolved.” Therefore, rather than scanning and posting the entire document, I have simply scanned those pages or sections that appear to have been changed significantly by the time the actual Final Design Brief was prepared in February, 2010. If anyone reading this wants to review the entire document, please contact me.

Here is the actual final Design Brief dated February 2010, and here are the pages in the Sept 2009 Design Brief that were changed significantly which contain my comments as to the changes that were eventually made. Note that I didn’t spend a great deal of time comparing the two documents, so there may well have been changes in addition to those that I have noted.

November 15, 2014: Payments by Chatsworth in the early years (2006 and 2007)

As I was working through the documents in chronological order, it dawned on me that I hadn’t seen anything about payments to the consultant for work related to the bio-digester. I asked Chatsworth CAO/Clerk Moore about this, and he provided some information by email on October 29. We later arranged for me to go through Council minutes prior to 2012 that are not posted on the website; I did this on November 13.

Chatsworth incurred costs of about $23,000 in 2006 and 2007 (based on this list provided to me by CAO/Clerk Moore on Nov 13). There was evidently some sort of verbal agreement between Chatsworth and Georgian Bluffs about equal sharing of bio-digester costs. I assume there was a contract between the consultant and the Township of Georgian Bluffs, but there was no contract between the consultant and the Township of Chatsworth.

The costs in 2006 were for the consultant only, but the costs for 2007 covered both the consultant and a payment to Hydro One for a study related to connecting the planned bio-digester to the grid.

CAO/Clerk Moore told me that the first reference to the bio-digester is contained in the minutes of a meeting of Chatsworth Council held on December 27, 2006. Motion 344/2006 states that Chatsworth’s share (that is, 50%) should be “paid from the Federal Gas Tax money.”

The bio-digester is not mentioned in minutes of the Chatsworth Council in 2007 although regular payments continued to be made to the consultant. The minutes of the Chatsworth Council meeting on January 2, 2008 (Motion 4/2008) deal with the costs incurred during 2007 in the same way as for those incurred during 2006 (Federal Gas Tax Reserve).

I did not ask to see the budget for 2007, or the Audit Report for that year. However, based on the fact that the Audit reports for 2011, 2012 and 2013 contain no separate accounting for the bio-digester even though the total costs to Chatsworth over these three years was close to a million dollars, I would guess that costs for 2007 were “buried” somewhere (for related information, see Hiding the Costs under the Biodigester tab).

I don’t know about the legality or ethics associated with flowing money to another township and to a consultant on the basis of verbal agreements, or about audit-related “rules” or “best practises” in such cases. In my opinion, however, this doesn’t meet any reasonable test of “transparency.”

November 14, 2014: Document #17 – Build Canada grant application (May 6, 2009) with supporting documents (Document #18)

Section II of the Application indicates tendering by Sept 15, 2009 with construction starting on October 22 and substantial completion by the end of June, 2010.

On page 4 of 13 of the Application, the answer to the question about cost recovery states that the tipping fee for septage and biosolids would be $45 per cubic metre which would produce annual net revenues of $339,400 after expenses of $227,100. This answer includes some discussion about the possibility of lower revenues “due to less septage” (this is the kind of discussion I would expect in a section titled “Project Risk” in a Business Plan, but Document #16 contains no such discussion). On page 8, there is reference to what appear to me to be “apples and oranges” alternatives in the “Business Plan” (see my comments with regard to Document #16).

The supporting documents include a letter from Chatsworth Mayor Greig to Georgian Bluffs Mayor Barfoot that states: “The Council of the Township of Chatsworth supports your application for Build Canada Funds for a BioDigester in the amount of $2,700,000.00. Chatsworth is committed to 50 percent of the municipal portion of the cost of the project. Council will pass a motion at our next meeting.”

It appears that the June 2006 report (Document #2) with updated tables (Document #15) were attached to the application.

November 13, 2014: Document #16 – Business Plan – Anaerobic Treatment of Septage/Biosolids/Corn Stover to Produce Biogas, Electrical Power and Treated Biosolids, April 2009 received from Chatsworth and Document #16a – Tables 1, 2, 3 and 4 from Document #16 (obtained from Georgian Bluffs)

First, I am putting “Business Plan” in quotation marks in these comments because the document doesn’t conform to my understanding of a rigorous Business Plan.

Note that this “Business Plan” is dated April, 2009. Except for the Hydro One estimate (Document #14) and the Revised Estimates (Document #15), no documents from 2008 were provided in response to my Freedom of Information request. I don’t understand why there wouldn’t have been correspondence and meetings leading up to the authorization for the consultant to prepare this report (or the updated costs in 2008, for that matter).

Section 1.0 (Problem Statement) of Document #16 makes reference to the 2004 report prepared for Grey County (Document #1 discussed earlier), stating that the overall project for the entire County as recommended in that report “did not go forward.”

Section 1.0 also refers to the Policy Statement published in 2005 (that I reviewed on October 27, below): “In addition, the Reserved Sewage System Capacity for Hauled Sewage Policy, which was introduced in 2005, indicated that municipalities must provide capacity for treating septage at their wastewater treatment plants or have a separate facility for treating septage to provide for significant new residential growth.

To me, this reads as though wastewater treatment plants were made obligatory by the Policy Statement but, to the best of my understanding, that was not the case. Even today, there are is no legislation and there are no regulations implementing this Policy, so it seems to me that the Policy Statement was nothing more than a “statement of intention” of some sort by the province in 2005.

Section 2.0 (Project Objective) reads as though a decision had already been made to proceed. In response to an emailed request about this, CAO/Clerk Will Moore sent the following note to me on October 30: “Regarding initial costs for engineering Council approved payment of $ 3,340 to Henderson, Paddon from the Federal Gas tax grant on December 27, 2006. In 2007 there were accounts approved in the net amount of $ 16,207.30 and on January 2, 2008 Council approved a resolution to fund those costs with the Federal Gas Tax grant.”

I will be reviewing the minutes of Chatsworth Council to understand the nature and form of what seems to have been some sort of contract that must have been in place with the consultant.

Section 3.0 (Analysis of Septage Treatment Options) starts by making reference to the 2004 study for Grey County (please refer back to my comments about this posted on October 10 and 12). It then goes on to compare the two least costly alternatives from the 2004 study (updated to 2009) with the costs for the bio-digester.

I hope I am wrong in this, but this appears to me to be an “apples and oranges” comparison in that the costs from the 2004 report are for treating all sewage in the County whereas the bio-digester option is sized to treat sewage from Chatsworth and Georgian Bluffs only. If this is the case, then the result of the cost comparison (that the biodigester was much less costly than the other two options) was a foregone conclusion. Perhaps I am missing something … ?

Sections 4.0 through 10.0 are titled Proposed Activities, Project Rationale, Expected Benefits, Timelines and Milestones, Performance and Progress Measures, Project Risks and Project Budget. Clearly, plans were well along when this was written.

Regarding “Project Risks,” I have written elsewhere on this blog and in correspondence with Mayor Pringle going back almost two years that there was no evidence whatsoever in 2009 that the province was prepared (or even preparing to) ban the spreading of septage on approved vacant land, but the risks identified in this “Business Plan” didn’t even include a possible delay in this regard.

When the decision was made to borrow the money and proceed with construction, it was 100% certain that this assumption was wrong. The resulting financial predicament was 100% foreseeable.

Tables 1, 2 and 3 of the April 2009 report are exactly the same as the revised costs estimates from 2008 (Tables 4, 5 and 6 in Document #14). Table 4 of the April 2009 report, showing cash flow projections, is consistent with my understanding that plans were well along when this report was written.

November 13, 2014 – Further to my October 7, 2014 FOI request to Georgian Bluffs, I spent much of the day on October 29 in the Georgian Bluffs council chambers reviewing documents provided by CAO/Clerk Murray Hackett. I have posted the list of documents I reviewed, as well as my “closure letter” to Mr. Hackett. I made very few copies, but I will scan those I that I did make and post them as part of the chronological review.

October 27, 2014Policy Statement about septage by Ministry of the Environment, 2005 (summarized in this July 2007 Fact Sheet). Note: This Fact Sheet was not among the documents provided by Chatsworth in response to my FOI request, but I am including it here for background.

The introduction to the next document provided in response to my FOI request (Document #16) refers to a Provincial Policy Statement about septage published in 2005. For purposes of background before posting Document #16 (in a day or two), here is a brief summary of the policy as outlined in the 2007 Fact Sheet.

The options for treating and disposing of septage are said to be: alkaline stabilization which involves the addition of lime or alkali to reduce pathogens, with the treated product being spread on approved sites; composting that, in 2007 when the Fact Sheet was prepared, was not used in Ontario but was under consideration; stabilization lagoons (not the same as storage lagoons) designed to treat septage to MOE standards; dewatering trenches which are long, narrow trenches excavated in permeable soils for the purpose of dewatering septage prior to final disposal at approved landfill sites or further stabilized and used as nutrients at approved sites; dewatering facilities where treatment usually involves screening, dewatering to separate the liquid from the solids, and may involve the treatment of either the separated liquid (such as by means of a constructed wetland system), the separated solids (such as by disposal at approved landfill sites or further stabilized and used as nutrients at approved locations), or both; and incineration after dewatering, which the 2007 Fact Sheet states has not found to have been cost effective and was not practised in Ontario at that time.

The 2005 Policy Statement also states that a municipality could secure sufficient treatment through building its own sewage treatment plant, through written agreement with another municipality, or through an approved private sector facility.

October 14, 2014Gestation Period (Documents from mid-2007 to mid-2008)

Document #15: Revised Estimates 2008 (Henderson Paddon updates of Table 4, 5 & 6 in June 2006 report) – August 7, 2008

It is interesting to compare these tables to the same-numbered tables in the June 2006 report (Document #2). For convenience, click here to see the comparisons (in each case, the table from 2006 is followed immediately by the table from 2008). No rationale is provided for any of the changes, some of which are very significant. Inflation from 2006 to 2008 would account for increases of less than 5% (inflation rates here), but many other factors can influence construction and equipment costs.

With regard to Table 4 (Project Costs), there are “round number” increases for pretty well all components (for example: heating system increase of 25% from $40,000 to $50,000; receiving station increase of 20% from $50,000 to $60,000; and generator set increase of 14% from $145,000 to $165,000). In addition to a 25% increase in the unit cost for building storage room for digestate, the size is tripled (from 1,155 cubic metres to 3,465 cubic metres). The per unit cost of constructing the primary and secondary digesters is 33% higher in the 2008 estimate compared to the 2006 value.

Finally with regard to Table 4, new items in the 2008 estimate include the start-up of the treatment system ($60,000), engineering assistance for commissioning treatment system ($68,875) and monitoring of treatment and performance ($90,000).

The overall sense I get from these figures is that the design was “evolving,” especially with regard to requirements associated with processing human septage rather than animal manure.

Table 5 shows estimated operational costs. The most notable difference to me is the 66% increase in cost of corn stalks (from $30 per tonne to $50 per tonne).

Table 6 shows an increase of almost 30% in the assumed tipping fee ($45 per cubic metre compared to from $35 in the 2006 report). Again, there is no explanation for this. With the revised (higher) cost estimates and the higher assumed tipping fee, the payback period is shown to be less than ten years.

Document #14: Hydro One Cost Estimate – January 4, 2008

The cost estimate from Hydro One for their work in connecting the biodigester to the grid was $23,000 plus taxes. The document states that the Connection Cost Recovery Agreement must be signed on or before May 7, 2008 for the planned in-service dated of September 1, 2009.

Document #9 through Document #13 – Meetings in 2007 (Chatsworth, Georgian Bluffs, consultant) – Some of these are Agendas only (no minutes). My understanding is that Chatsworth was usually represented at these meetings by Mayor Greig, Deputy Mayor Pringle and CAO Will Moore. I assume that the role of the CAO was to bring business, management and administrative perspectives to the table.

The purposes of these meetings seem to have been to flesh out the ideas and try to find support and, importantly, external funding. Some expenses were incurred, so by email on Oct 13, I asked CAO Will Moore for more information about how payments were authorized. On Oct 16, Mr. Moore replied that he would respond in “due course.” Stay tuned for further information on this.

Joint Meeting April 2, 2007

There is nothing much of note here. Evidently, some representatives of Chatsworth and Georgian Bluffs managed to meet with some provincial politicians and bureaucrats.

Joint Meeting #4 April 24, 2007 (Note that this is an Agenda only – no minutes were provided in response to my FOI request)

Again, it doesn’t appear to me that much happened or was decided. Follow-up and cultivating contacts.

Joint Meeting #5 June 19, 2007 (Agenda only)

Ditto. Expenditure of $7,420 noted for Study and Connection Cost Agreement for Hydro One.

Joint Meeting #6 Sept 27, 2007 (Agenda only)

Judging by the Agenda for the next meeting, it appears that this one was cancelled.

Joint Meeting #7 October 5, 2007 (Agenda only)

This Agenda is identical to the one for the September 27 meeting.

October 13, 2014 – Document #3: Minutes of January 8, 2007 meeting among Chatsworth, Georgian Bluffs and engineering consultant

Although obviously there had been some “informal discussions” after the June 2006 report was tabled, this appears to be the first of a series of “official” meetings held in 2007. The Township of Chatsworth was typically represented by the Mayor, Deputy Mayor and CAO-Clerk.

In point 5 of these minutes (that are on the consultants’ letterhead), the minutes outline what are said to be two approaches, the first of which is to “… use a proven technology and design facilities from Europe … .” The second approach is to “Carry out a pilot project in conjunction with a private supplier of anaerobic digesters to test septage and agricultural products to produce biogas before construction of a full scale facility.”

It isn’t clear to me why the options are outlined in this way. If “proven technology and design facilities” (approach #1) exist, then why would the second approach involving “testing” be suggested as some sort of alternative? Maybe you had to be there … but in any event, it appears from the actions agreed at the meeting that the parties were intent on obtaining funding for the first approach.

At point 14 of the minutes it is implied that Chatsworth had already made a decision (or would shortly make a decision) to pay for consulting fees “… from the Federal gas tax money.” One would think that this would have been something that would be drawn to the attention of taxpayers.

Point 18 of the minutes sets February 12, 2007 as the date for the next meeting, but there are no records from or related to a meeting on that date.

The townships and the consultant put considerable effort into trying to obtain funding. Here, without further comment, are the documents that were prepared during this period:

1. Presentation Brief Feb 2007 (appears to have been produced by Henderson Paddon)

2. Funding request to Minister Dombrowsky (Agriculture) Feb 19, 2007

3. Funding request to Minister Broten (Environment) Feb 19, 2007

4. Funding request to Parliamentary Secretary of Minister of Agriculture Feb 23, 2007

5. Support Letters (from Western Ontario Wardens Caucus, Grey County Federation of Agriculture, National Farmers Union Local 336, Christian Farmers Federation of Ontario, Grey County Forest Stewardship Network) April – June, 2007

In response to my Freedom of Information request of June 11, 2014, the Township provided no copies of minutes of Council Meetings that dealt with the June 2006 report or with the activities of the “Bio-digester Committee” in 2007 that arose out of the June 2006 report, including any discussion about funding. This strikes me as being odd, so I intend to make further inquiry.

October 12, 2014 – Document #2: Anaerobic Treatment of Septage/Biosolids to Produce Biogas, Electrical Power and Treated Biosolids, Henderson Paddon & Associates, June 2006.

Section 1.0 of this report states that: “The Ministry of the Environment, several years ago, indicated that the disposal of untreated septage on agricultural land will be discontinued and that all septage will need to be treated before being disposed of on agricultural land.” I assume this to be a reference to the discussion with Minister C. Stockwell in 2003 (see my October 10 comments regarding Section 1.1 of Document #1).

It goes on to say that: “The Townships of Chatsworth and Georgian Bluffs are interested in being proactive with regard to treatment of septage and have therefore engaged Henderson Paddon & Associates Limited to further investigate a proven agricultural manure anaerobic digestion system which could be applied to treat septage and biosolids … .” I take the portion of the sentence that I have emphasised with bold font to mean that the consultant was not aware of any (or very few) working biodigesters for human waste. See comments on Section 3, below.

These are the first references in the documentation to: a) cooperation between the Township of Chatsworth and the Township of Georgian Bluffs; and b) anaerobic digestion for the production of biogas and electricity. Note that anaerobic digestion was not one of the options considered in the March 2004 Management Plan for Grey County.

Section 2 of the 2006 report deals with quantity and quality of septage for Chatsworth and Georgian Bluffs combined, using figures from the 2004 report. The 2006 report for Chatsworth and Georgian Bluffs is silent about heavy metals; there is no mention of the need for follow-up about heavy metals raised in Section 4.2 of the 2004 report.

Section 3 is a very high-level discussion about how a biodigester works. There are references to the use of corn stalks and to the Hydro One feed-in tariff. There is no discussion about the reason for mixing additional digestible materials (in this case, corn stalks) with septage. As I understand it, bio-digestion of animal manure does not require additional materials to be added; in turn, I believe this means that comparisons with bio-digesters for animal manure are somewhat limited in value.

Section 4 provides a general description of facilities required and costs. I note that about three-quarters of the estimated annual operating cost (a little more than $200,000) is attributed to the cost of disposing of the digestate.

Section 5 is titled Financial Analysis. The total cost was estimated at $1.54 million (2006). Revenue numbers are based on the assumption (that is stated as a recommendation) that residential septic tanks be pumped every three years and that the tipping fee be $35 per cubic metre.

October 11, 2014Document #1 (continued): Septage Management Plan for the Municipalities of Grey County (March 12, 2004) and Document #1A: Table 4 from this report.

Section 4.2 of this report deals with “quality” of septage (that is, its chemical and biological contents) which must be taken into account in the design of treatment and disposal facilities. References are made to samples taken in 2001 – 2003 at wastewater treatment plants in the Town of Meaford, the Municipality of Northern Bruce Peninsula, the Town of Saugeen Shores, the City of Hamilton and the District of Muskoka.

The sample data are summarized in Table 4 of the report that was not provided in response to my Freedom of Information request. Rather, I downloaded it from the Grey County website in April of 2013.

Section 4.2 states that: “It should also be noted that in some grab samples, there were high elevated levels of metals such as copper, zinc and aluminum. Copper was reported to be as high as 290 mg/L, zinc at 750 mg/L and aluminum at 5300 mg/L. It is not known where the high levels of metals originated. These parameters may be from chemicals and cleaning products utilized in households and disposed of through plumbing to the septic tank. It should be noted that in all cases, for the selected parameters, other than pH and chloride, the average concentration of septage exceeds the Ontario Sanitary Model Sewer Use Bylaw criteria.”

The report goes on to say that: “The U.S. EPA has suggested … a design guideline of 8 mg/L for copper, 40 mg/L for zinc and 50 mg/L for aluminum … . As can be seen in Table 4, some grab samples indicate much higher levels than the design concentration listed for copper and zinc, which needs to be investigated further to ensure there is not a problem with final disposal of treated wastewater or compost on farm land in regard to heavy metals.”

At bio-digester meetings that I have attended and in related documents, I have not noted any references to testing for heavy metals. Given the data contained in the 2004 report about heavy metals in some septage in Ontario, one would think that it would be a good idea to test the “digestate” (the end product that is obviously much more concentrated than raw septage). Perhaps this has been done, or is being done on an ongoing basis, and I just don’t know about it.

The report contains no information about pharmaceuticals; are they destroyed, or, like heavy metals, might they be concentrated?

October 10, 2014Document #1: Septage Management Plan for the Municipalities of Grey County prepared by Henderson Paddon and Associates Limited (March 12, 2004).

First, note that the Figures and Tables were not provided by Mr. Moore in response to my FOI request. In April, 2013 I found this report on the Grey County website, but it seems to have been removed since then. I will post the tables, figures and appendices at a later date.

Section 1.1 of this report refers to a meeting of Grey County representatives with the Minister of the Environment in February 2003. Although not named, the Minister at that time was Mr. C. Stockwell who was at the same time the Minister of Energy in the government of then Premier Ernie Eves. The report states: “It was made clear by the Minister to the delegation … that they were considering banning the application of septage from the land in future and that this issue should be resolved.”

A meeting in June 2003 with officials of the Ministry (not the Minister) apparently discussed the possibility of a “Pilot Project” in Grey County. The Ministry officials apparently discussed certain conditions that would have to be met, in particular that all nine municipalities in the County would participate. From the Province’s perspective, I can understand why this would be important (scale and practicality).

There is no reference in the report to the fact that a majority Liberal government was elected after these meetings, and that a new Minister of the Environment was appointed at the end of October 2003. I read every Speech from the Throne and every Budget speech beginning in 2004 and did not see a single word about septage. Furthermore, in response to my FOI request, Mr. Moore did not provide any documentation of any sort about the “promise” that the Province has “broken.”

So as far as I have been able to determine, there never was any “promise” by the Province in a form that anyone who was spending their own money could “take to the bank.” If anyone ever again hears Mayor Pringle (or Mayor Barfoot) talk about the Province “breaking its promise,” please ask for specifics.

Section 5.0 discusses the existing (in 2004) wastewater treatment plants in Grey County of which there were a total of 12 (primary at Owen Sound, secondary or tertiary at Flesherton, Craigleith, Markdale, Amik, Dundalk, Derby, Meaford, Thornbury, Durham, Hanover and Neustadt). Chatsworth is the only municipality without a wastewater treatment plant. At the time, it is noted that there was significant “uncommitted” capacity at eight of these treatment plants.

Section 8 provides a list of conclusions. Recommendations are in Section 9. The report concludes that a privately owned and operated dewatering and composting facility at the Durham wastewater treatment plant was the least costly and most socially and environmentally acceptable alternative considered.

October 10, 2014Chronological List of Documents provided by Township of Chatsworth to FOI Request

A list of documents provided in response to my June 11, 2014 FOI request may be found here. This is (roughly) the order that I will post them with some commentary, starting later today.

October 9, 2014FOI Request to Georgian Bluffs

The sewage lagoon is integral to the biodigester project and the Agreement between Chatsworth and Georgian Bluffs. Chatsworth has one-half interest in the lagoon. It is claimed that the subsidies that Chatsworth pays (half of the transportation and roughly one-third of the tipping fees for every drop of septage generated by most businesses on the Sunset Strip) are somehow justified based on the original financing of the lagoon, but there has never been a coherent explanation of this.

In the circumstances, I thought that Chatsworth would have at least some information about the lagoon, but apparently not (see point 7 in Mr. Moore’s Sept 30 letter, below). This strikes me as very odd, but in any event, the importance of the lagoon and the lack of any information from Chatsworth about it caused me to file a Freedom of Information request with Georgian Bluffs on October 7, 2014 (click here to see it).

October 9, 2014FOI Information from Chatsworth

On September 30, 2014, Mr. W. Moore (CAO-Clerk of the Township of Chatsworth) wrote to advise me that all of the relevant documents in the possession of Chatsworth had been provided (click here to see the letter).

My original intention was to simply post all of the documents along with this letter. Upon reflection, though, I think it would be more useful (in terms of developing a broad understanding about how we arrived at this point) for me to post the documents in chronological order. At the same time, I will provide a brief description or explanation of my understanding of each document, or make note of particular points.

It will probably take me a couple of weeks to do this. By the end, people who follow just the commentary should have a reasonable understanding of the story of the biodigester without getting too deep into the swamp, so to speak. Anyone who is inclined to delve deeper into any subject, or any particular document, will be able to do so if they wish.

Sept 25, 2014

After almost two years of following issues related to the bio-digester, it became clear to me that the Leaders of the Township of Chatsworth (Mayor Bob Pringle, Deputy Mayor Terry McKay and CAO/Clerk Will Moore) were not interested in being genuinely forthcoming in response to requests for information about the bio-digester. I was seeking information to help me understand why and how Chatsworth ended up being equally responsible with Georgian Bluffs for transportation and treatment of septage generated by businesses on the Sunset Strip.

Therefore, I filed a Freedom of Information request with the Township of Chatsworth on June 11, 2014. A copy of my letter is here.

Although some documents had been provided by August 20 (more than a month later than the 30-day deadline specified in the legislation), I appealed on that date to the Information and Privacy Commissioner of Ontario. The case has been accepted by the IPC, an Analyst has been assigned and I understand that work is underway.

When I receive the information that I have requested (or a signed declaration of some sort that says that no such information exists), I will post everything here.

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