MUSKOKA LAKES - Inspecting closed landfill sites – many of them long since forgotten – has local governments bracing for the potential cost of bringing them to provincial standards.
In 1973 the Ministry of Environment took inventory of all the municipal dumps in Ontario. A year later they closed many of them, but according to Len Troupe, interim director for public works for the township of Muskoka Lakes, they rarely checked to make sure the municipalities had complied. Now those inspections are underway.
In April the Ministry of Environment notified municipalities it would be reviewing all closed landfill sites. Muskoka Lakes is one of the municipalities that will have to do some tidying up.
Troupe said so far, four out of the five dumps that were reviewed in the township face minor infractions.
He said the closed landfills, which are very small compared to the mega landfills used now, were closed properly in the 1970s, “but that doesn’t say that somebody doesn’t throw a bag of garbage or an old tire in there after the fact.”
According to the Ministry of Environment, there are about 100 waste disposal sites within Muskoka. Over the past few years, they have inspected 21 active and closed landfill sites with no major violations identified. They are planning to inspect another eight this fiscal year.
In 2010, the ministry staff in the Barrie district office visited and completed risk assessments on waste disposal sites closed prior to 1972. It revealed no issues or off-site impacts.
Troupe said back in the ‘50s and ‘60s every third block in any rural municipality, including Muskoka, probably had a land fill site. The township has a record of many of those that have since closed, but Troupe said there are many he’s not aware of.
“We’ve got about 30 or 35 (closed landfill sites) kicking around some place that I’m not even aware of,” Troupe said. “They’re throwing locations at me I didn’t even know existed.”
Prior to 1996, waste disposal was the responsibility of each individual municipality. In 1996 it was shifted to the District of Muskoka, but the district only took over the land with active landfill sites. The closed sites remained in the municipality’s jurisdiction.
The district is now also monitoring eight dumps that have been closed since 1996.
Mark Pringle, manager of solid waste at the District of Muskoka, said they send reviews to the Ministry of Environment annually.
Troupe said Muskoka Lakes is now doing some housekeeping on the old sites. One of the sites, a landfill on the corner of Acton Island Road and Hwy 169, requires more work.
“The municipality’s been using it for 50 years for disposing of earth and rock and things like that, leaves, brush,” Troupe said.
Year-to-year, the change didn’t appear visible, with limited fill dumped on site. Decades later, the accumulation has become visible, he said.
The Ministry of Environment doesn’t consider dirt and soil waste unless there are contaminants in it, but the 1970s regulations for this site seem to be different.
“What they’re saying is when they closed that site in 1974, I believe, that it was supposed to be closed for everything and earth and rock wasn’t acceptable at that time,” Troupe said. “Kind of a grey area in my opinion, because we weren’t throwing garbage in there per se, but they’re saying it should have been closed and not used for anything.”
Troupe said the township is preparing a clean-up plan for the fill and debris added since the closure, which has to be approved by the ministry before they will know how much it will cost.
“It’s going to be more of a matter of moving some earth around and doing some grading, but it will still be time consuming, there will still be a cost to it,” he said.
Currently the district manages waste such as curbside collection, transfer stations and drop-off areas, which include about 100 public bins used by seasonal residents.
“The garbage doesn’t go away,” Pringle said. “We manage our waste in Muskoka within the boundaries of Muskoka, it’s going to be here forever.”