Pandemic delaying organic waste-treatment centres in Montreal

Successive city administrations have planned five organic waste-treatment centres for the east, west, south and north ends of the island since 2009.

MONTREAL, QUE.: NOVEMBER 18, 2020 -- Construction site at the city of Montreal first composting centre in St-Laurent borough on Wednesday November 18, 2020. (Pierre Obendrauf / MONTREAL GAZETTE) ORG XMIT: 65340 - 2187

Montreal has waited a dozen years for its first organic waste-treatment centre to be built, and the pandemic appears to have added another six months to the wait.

A $175-million composting centre in St-Laurent, which was most recently projected to open in September 2021, is now scheduled for delivery in March 2022, according to the city’s new capital works spending program.

The centre, which is being built at triple its initial estimate, is delayed because of the COVID-19 pandemic, the city’s environment department indicated in a presentation to city council’s finance committee on Tuesday. The committee is holding public hearings on the city’s 2021 operating budget and 10-year capital works program, which were tabled by the administration of Mayor Valérie Plante in mid-November.

As well, a biomethanation plant in Montreal East, which will also process organic waste for the island, is delayed by two months, the spending plan shows. Its scheduled delivery is now August 2022.

Nevertheless, the Plante administration said on Wednesday the targeted opening of the St-Laurent facility is still 2021.

“We don’t foresee any significant delay and no financial impact compared to the contracts that were awarded in 2019,” Laurence Houde-Roy, a spokesperson for the mayor and executive committee, wrote in a response that was identical to a response from a spokesperson for the civil service.

“In the context of the pandemic, the contractors quickly deployed protocols to ensure the continuity of the work,” both messages said. “The design of the composting centre in St-Laurent is finished, construction is progressing well and the commissioning (of the facility) is still scheduled for 2021.”

However, Alan DeSousa, an opposition councillor with Ensemble Montreal and borough mayor of St-Laurent, said in an interview on Wednesday that the administration is contradicting the capital works program presented only two weeks ago.

“It would appear there’s a major disconnect between what the city administration is saying and the budget that has been deposited,” he said. “I think the people who made the budget and the people who are overseeing the composting centre construction should talk to one another because clearly they’re not on the same wavelength.”

Moreover, the capital works program projects $15.7 million will be spent to build the St-Laurent facility in 2022.

“That’s not a minuscule amount — $15 million is not just the amount to plant the flowers and put the grass down,” DeSousa said. “So $15 million spent in 2022 means a delay.”

Houde-Roy and the city’s communications office didn’t respond to a request to explain the discrepancy by late Wednesday.

DeSousa also questioned whether the city will be able to meet the targets it set for itself in the 2020-2025 waste-management plan it presented three months ago.

One of the targets in the plan is to divert 60 per cent of organic waste — which makes up 55 per cent of all trash on the island — from landfills by 2025. Several other targets are intended to help fulfil that goal, including an objective to expand organic waste collection to include all residences by 2025. Apartment buildings with more than nine units still have no brown bins. Schools are also to have organic waste collection by 2025.

The city would need its new treatment facilities to process the additional organic waste that’s collected, DeSousa said.

However, Houde-Roy said the targets in the 2020-2025 waste-management plan will be respected. The city currently has contracts with composting centres to deal with most organic waste that’s collected on the island, she said. Once open, the St-Laurent composting plant and the Montreal East biomethanation plant will enable the city to process the increased quantity of organic waste it anticipates will be collected in the medium term. The city is also assessing the additional treatment capacity it will need later and revising plans for the second composting centre, the second biomethanation plant and the pre-treatment centre, she said.

The Plante administration awarded the $175-million contract to design, build and operate the St-Laurent composting centre to Suez in 2019. The city’s original estimate for the west-end facility was $46 million, which climbed to $65.3 million before the contract was awarded.

Meanwhile, a second composting centre, which was planned for Rivière-des-Prairies—Pointe-aux-Trembles, has been put on hold indefinitely, with no work projected between now and 2030.

The capital works program indicates a second biomethanation plant in LaSalle is slated to open in December 2026.

Successive city administrations have planned five organic waste-treatment centres for the east, west, south and north ends of the island since 2009. The fifth facility, a pre-treatment centre in Montreal East, is scheduled for delivery in December 2027.

The civil service presentation on Tuesday said the sequence of work to build the 50,000-tonne capacity St-Laurent composting centre on Henri-Bourassa Blvd., just east of Highway 13, was modified because of the pandemic. The work to build the centre is 35 per cent complete, it said.

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