Updated: Nov 5, 2019
MUSKOKA - Listen up seasonal residents, the district of Muskoka would like to borrow your ears regarding the removal of waste disposal bins within the region.
During an October district Public Works and Engineering Committee meeting Fred Jahn, commissioner of Muskoka’s public works department, presented committee members with a four year plan to remove all waste disposal bins within Muskoka municipalities.
There are currently 88 bin sites in the region, serving 6,500 households in five municipalities with the exception of Lake of Bays.
Jahn began the presentation acknowledging that “change at the best of times is really hard.”
“I can’t recall a situation where we have had such a significant level of service contemplated, and we recognize that to do that successfully it requires communication,” said Jahn.
Before diving into the presentation he also noted that district staff recognized and acknowledged that they have not had the time to do a robust job in terms of consultations.
“This has happened very quickly,” he said.
An overview of the history of bin sites in Muskoka outlines that they were adopted decades ago, bins were the only alternative to curb side collection specifically for water access and island residents.
Muskoka Lakes has the largest number of bins at 21, followed by Georgian Bay at 19, Bracebridge at 17, Huntsville has 16 and Gravenhurst has 15. Some of these sites are open only seasonally.
All have to be removed within four years as per the Ministry of Environment, Conservation and Parks.
“We have a waste disposal service which is not authorized by the ministry and we need to address that … we can’t manage 88 bin sites because illegal dumping is just out of control. Ultimately we see this as an environmental risk to the watershed and human health,” said Jahn.
According to the commissioner household hazardous waste is also indiscriminately dumped at these locations.
Jahn said the direction and transition over the next four years requires a systematic approach.
The district indicated that they will be removing bins in priority of hazard order. Any bins near water are the first target, in other words bins at marinas will be the first ones removed.
What is the existing local service if the bins are removed you ask?
“From our perspective if there was a transfer station or a waste depot within 5 or 15 kilometres from that site that would be consistent with the level of service in other parts of Muskoka. So we thought that could be a short term solution,” explained Jahn.
Bins that have had history of illegal dumping are also high on the removal priority list.
District staff are looking to hire a consultant to analyze alternative levels of service as the bins are removed. Once the draft ideas are prepared the municipalities and the public will be invited for feedback. These, however, may have an impact on official plans as well as zoning.
Despite the lack of consultation and preparation still required to draft a plan, the district indicated that the first phase of high risk bin removal would occur in spring 2020.
This was later amended to Fall 2020 to give residents and staff more time to transition from the removal of the first priority bins.
Local councillors and committee members expressed concern regarding the lack of time to communicate the bin removal plan to the public should the bins be removed in Spring. Some were worried seasonal residents would be caught off guard and further backlash could occur with more illegal dumping.
Gravenhurst coun. Heidi Lorenz pointed out that many of the bins which were scheduled for removal in spring 2020 are located at marinas.
“Have we prepared the owners of these marinas? As they are the ones who will take the brunt of this. What is their role in this,” she asked.
In short nothing has yet been done. Jahn expanded on the answer by saying that this would be part of the communication strategy as soon as the plan has final approval from district council. Staff would then communicate with the public including marina operators. He also offered that many marina owners would like to see the bins removed.
Gravenhurst Mayor Paul Kelly addressed the obvious problem for many seasonal residents.
“The bins will magically disappear come next spring, when people go there they won’t know that those bins won’t be coming back after they leave this fall ... it’s a communication issue … I would be shocked if there was anybody here from Gravenhurst that would say they knew this was coming so quick,” said Kelly.
Jahn noted that the district has held six public consultations, however, he said that it has been challenging reaching seasonal residents.
Muskoka Lakes Mayor and Committee Chair Phil Harding wants the priority structure of the removal of the bins altered, he is also open to alternative solutions which could still involve bin sites.
“Phase number 1, the marinas, are the biggest problem. To force this upon our tax payers in a quick six month deal ... give us the four years and not six months,” Harding said
“How do we work with the ministry to give us four years to remove 88 bin sites. The most problematic should be the last ones to come out until we find alternative solutions.”
The MOE representative who attended the meeting said changes to the phase out will be considered due to the challenges of communicating with seasonal residents.
Harding illustrated the need to continue providing adequate services with tax mathematics, and noted that the municipality of Muskoka Lakes has 1,300 island properties with a total tax base of $10 million.
“Of that $10 million, $8 million is going to the district for garbage, winter road maintenance, education and there is not a lot of islanders that have access to our education system ... I think we need find a plan that addresses short term issues and then a four year issue,” he said.
The final plan has to be submitted to the ministry by the end of November.
Harding allowed three deputations, all three were residents of Tobin Island on Lake Rosseau.
One resident wanted know how many transfer stations are planned for the district, and what is a reasonable distance to these stations for island tax payers.
Jahn answered and said that there is not a predetermined plan and public consultations will be required for any plan to move ahead. The current level of service requires a 10 minute drive to the nearest transfer station.
During the second deputation it was pointed out that parts of the current Tobin Island waste management bin set up and locations work “exceptionally well and there is no garbage refuge lying around … I often mention the significant taxes paid by all our island cottagers and the very limited service that we receive is a very real issue.”
The idea of private sites on private land was surfaced by the deputations; district planning staff advised that this would require possible zoning changes, a possible official plan amendment depending on the location of the private bin sites, however not impossible to accomplish.
The final deputation speaker said there is an inconvenience factor of having to take garbage from an island residence by boat, then have to transfer it to a vehicle and still have to drive to drop off at a transfer station.
“We are jumping to a lot of conclusions that bin sites are a hazard to the environment and to human health, it may be and it may not be, but I have not seen anybody present any hard evidence … if you make it inconvenient for people to dump their garbage they will find other ways.”
Jahn said the district has a consultant ready to go and could bring the discussion back to committee in December.