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21 acres of Burnaby parkland eyed as future green waste facility site

A big change could be coming to an area of Burnaby’s Fraser Foreshore Park, in the form of a massive organic waste recycling facility.

burnaby green waste facility

The Google Earth image shows the larger parcel of land that contains the City of Burnaby’s proposed site (which can be seen in the top left map in yellow). This image is intended to show a different view of the proposed site and does not depict its exact land area or borders. (City of Burnaby/ Google Earth)

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A big change could be coming to an area of Burnaby’s Fraser Foreshore Park, in the form of a large organic waste recycling facility, but the project is also raising concerns about potential environmental impacts.

On Monday, council gave staff approval to continue with the next steps to establish the Green Recycling Organic Waste (GROW) project, proposed to be built on 21 acres at the city-owned 4800 Riverbend Dr., which is currently designated parkland.

The $182-million project would be a fully enclosed facility where organic waste gets converted into high-quality soil that could be used by residents, community gardeners, and local farmers.

According to the city, the facility also has the potential to annually generate enough renewable natural gas to heat 5,000 homes and process up to 150,000 tonnes of organic waste (30,000 tonnes would come from Burnaby and the remainder would be from surrounding communities).

green waste facility buraby

A City of Burnaby graphic illustrating how the GROW facility would be utilized. (City of Burnaby)

The project would also allow Burnaby to obtain price certainty for its green waste via a “fixed tip fee” which is significantly lower than market rate and adjusted annually for inflation.

Currently, Burnaby’s green waste is processed at a private facility in Delta, and its limited capacity has led to higher tipping fees and price increases, says the city.

Erik Schmidt, director of public works with the City of Burnaby, told the Beacon that the facility presents “a whole bunch” of benefits to the city.

“...I mean, we’re talking about strictly from the financial side, the pricing stability to process our green waste and our green recyclable material, saving and trucking costs and the GHG emissions that are attributed to that, capturing new renewable natural gas… high-quality organic material–compost material, that we could look at,” he said.

“There’s local jobs, educational opportunities, all the support for waste diversion goals throughout the region, those are all huge benefits. And we think net on balance, this is a really good project for the City of Burnaby.”

Crunching the numbers

A 150,000-tonne facility, that could sell its excess capacity and enter into a renewable natural gas agreement with Fortis BC, is the most “economically feasible” option for Burnaby, states the report.

green waste facility buraby

A chart showing the preliminary financial feasibility of the GROW facility. (City of Burnaby)

The facility’s net revenue is estimated to generate $165 per tonne. This amount is based on the tipping fees of the excess capacity, which is estimated to be 100,000 tonnes per year, heat recovery, the sale of compost, and renewable natural gas.

A positive revenue of $18.21 per tonne is estimated from the GROW facility.

Location, location, location

The potential GROW site is part of a larger 99.7-acre parcel of dedicated parkland.

The GROW facility would be 21 acres (12% of the overall park’s 175 acres), according to the report, which noted that this location was picked after an “extensive search” of city-owned sites.

green waste facility buraby

The area in yellow on the map indicates the 21-acre site where the GROW facility would be located. (City of Burnaby)

“...We have, over the last couple of years, completed a comprehensive ecological assessment. And that was to look at what was there and the quality of what was on site and what we had on-site at the time, before we even contemplated this project,” said Schmidt.

“And through that, we identified the best location for the site, which happens to be close to the roadway and the cul de sac and far removed from the … [Fraser River] and all of that sensitive area next to it.”

The report states the proposed building site is not currently used for recreational purposes and was “previously disturbed” when it was cleared and used for farming between 1930 and 1965.

It adds that the site’s size and distance from residential neighbourhoods will help minimize factors such as noise, smell, and traffic.

“The recommended site at 4800 Riverbend Drive is the only site option to meet the required criteria, with the added benefit of being adjacent to the existing Metro Vancouver Waste-to-Energy Facility (WTEF),” states the report.

Schmidt told the Beacon that staff spent an “extensive” amount of time reviewing Burnaby’s city-owned land network and determined the best location would be in the Big Bend area.

“We looked at that area, and we looked at available land portions. And, you know, there wasn't a lot of other locations. In fact, there [were] no other locations that we could pursue,” he said.

“And so this is where we ended up now this site happens to be perfect with the district energy and the waste energy site [close by]. But at this point in time, we have no other sites identified as potential sites.”

What about park dedication?

Because the GROW facility would be built on what is now designated parkland, its designation status would need to be removed before construction starts.

This can only be achieved by a bylaw adoption with electors’ approval, and this approval can happen via a referendum or an Alternative Approval Process (AAP), which is what staff is looking to proceed with.

The larger Google Earth image shows the larger parcel of land that contains the City of Burnaby’s proposed site (which can be seen in the top left map in yellow). This image is intended to show a different view of the proposed site and does not depict its exact land area or borders. (City of Burnaby/ Google Maps)

“The AAP can be used to help local governments understand whether the community views a particular matter as "significant", and if necessary, whether the matter then warrants being taken to an assent vote for broader citizen engagement” notes a staff report.

If less than 10% of electors object to the proposal, this is considered overall approval and the city could move forward with greenlighting the park dedication bylaw. But if over 10% object, then approval from electors must be granted through a referendum.

The staff report notes that the proposed reduction in the Fraser Foreshore parkland would be balanced out by the recent park dedication of four areas in the city totalling 204.05 acres, which were approved during the October 2022 municipal election.

Environmental factors

The facility’s proposed location would impact eight hectares of wetland habitat (4.4 hectares of swamp, 2.5 hectares of forest, and 1.1 hectares of marsh).

The project team says it has prioritized minimizing environmental impacts by “pushing [the facility] as far back from the Fraser River as possible, stacking some elements on the site to reduce the development footprint, and avoiding portions of the site with higher environmental value.”

The project would also require additional permits from the province and federal government.

Staff says it has also established a “robust environmental compensation program” to mitigate environmental impacts.

The program would be broken up into onsite and offsite work.

At the Fraser Foreshore site, staff said it would implement forest enhancement, establish a high-value habitat in the Fraser River Basin, and replace a low-quality fish habitat in drainage ditches with a new marsh and tidal creeks to support salmon.

As well, Schmidt noted that part of the on-site work would be to improve an “owl range” in the area by identifying and eliminating invasive plant species.

As for offsite compensation, staff is looking to implement enhancements at three city-owned sites to provide a net gain of floodplain forest, marsh, and swamp habitats.

Staff says its compensation strategy creates a 3.2-to-1 habitat gain-to-loss ratio (this becomes a 3:7:1 ratio when the city’s preservation of natural swamp area is taken into account), which is “the largest environmental enhancement the city has ever undertaken”

Paving paradise?

The GROW facility’s proposed location has raised concern from some residents, due to its impact on parkland and the surrounding environment.

“As a lifelong citizen of Burnaby, and a regular dog walker in this area, this is extremely disheartening,” wrote one concerned citizen in a document posted on Burnaby’s Reddit page.

“Allowing the city to build this facility will result in significant environmental damage and permanent damage to the vibrant ecosystem.”

The document encourages residents to voice their concerns to the city about the facility.

Local stream keeper Paul Cipywnyk shared a post on his blog about the facility (which was also published by the Burnaby Now).

“... City staff say the site is not currently used as a recreational facility. How about the dog walkers and bird watchers? Not every park has to have human-centric ‘recreational facilities,’” he wrote.

“For anyone who thinks getting rid of swamps, marshes, and other wetlands is positive, nothing could be further from the truth.”

The Beacon asked Schmidt what he thought about some of these responses and he acknowledged that “the activity is not without disturbance in that location and we recognize that.

“But we’re talking about … over 3:1 compensation enhancements, adding fish habitat improving the environment and ecological capacity in the area. So really… the response to that is at the end of this project, the environmental activity in the area and fish habitat and spawning grounds will actually be increased after our work is done.”

Schmidt noted that the city also wants to hear the public’s feedback on the proposal.

What council said

Staff presented council with the project report during Monday evening’s council meeting.

Coun. Pietro Calendino talked about the facility’s logistics and said that there needed to be an agreement with Metro Vancouver to ensure that 150,000 tonnes of feedstock were secured.

“I would like that assurance or at least an agreement in principle with Metro [Vancouver] that, yes, they are able to divert their green waste to our facility in Burnaby,” he said.

Calendino also recognized that there could be some “pushback from the community” about removing 21 acres from “some sensitive park area and wetlands” and suggested the city have strong messaging and communication with residents to make them “aware of the benefits [of GROW] and that Burnaby is also increasing the parkland areas.”

Coun. Joe Keithley said he is “strongly in support” of the proposal.

“I think it presents a fantastic opportunity for the city, financially. It will help in our fight against climate change, curbing GHGs (greenhouse gases) and producing biofuel for vehicles in the city,” he said.

“We just recently dedicated 10 times the amount that’s talked about here with the GROW facility to parkland. So Burnaby is adding parkland.”

Coun. Allison Gu said the site “isn’t the best quality parkland that we have,” due to the prior industrial disturbance that occurred there.

“When we talk about nature-based solutions and conservation, I think it’s really important that we don’t just protect the lowest value of land and then cut down trees and pave over marshes and do it as we please. We actually look at where it is valuable to have parkland and then do everything we can to enhance that,” she stated.

The motion to allow the proposal to go to public consultation carried unanimously.

Construction could start in 2024 and the GROW facility could open in 2026 if the project is officially approved.

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