Former Dresden dump owner fined $65,000 after leachate found at the site

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The entrance to York1's property north of Dresden. The company hopes to run a recycling centre for construction waste there.

Incident raises concerns for York1 proposal: Jakubec

Heather Wright/The Independent ©

The former owner of the Dresden dump has been fined over $65,000 for leachate caused by dumping waste from a cannabis greenhouse at the site before it was sold to York1 Environmental Services.

And one environmental activist is sounding the alarm bells about what this could mean for the massive proposed regenerative recycling and landfill development the GTA company is planning.

Waste Wood Disposal, owned by Mark Smith, operated from the site on Irish School Road since 1992. For a decade, Dresden buried fly ash from the town’s garbage incinerator there. When it closed, councillors struck a deal with Smith to use the property. In 1995, days before Dresden became part of Chatham-Kent, the site was sold to Smith.

In 1998, Smith received approval from the province to bring in up to 75 tonnes of waste a day to the site. He was also given the green light to bring in solid waste from industrial, institutional and municipal sectors. Smith ran his business quietly for years. Chatham-Kent Police built a shooting range on the property and left in 2021. Around that time, according to York1 officials, agents for Smith approached the Mississauga-based environmental and construction company to sell the property.

By Dec. 2022, after months of behind the scenes work on the plan to revive the dormant landfill, the deal was sealed. Smith received $2.5 million from York1 for the property.

When York1’s plans became public, neighbours told The Independent about the ministry’s investigation into the organic waste and the stinky leachate the former owner created, but the charges and conviction against Waste Wood Disposal only surfaced recently.

Ministry officials, in a news release in April, said Waste Wood Disposal and the numbered company owned by Smith were convicted of six offences after it brought in the cannabis waste from January 14, 2020 to May 6, 2021.

“In December 2019, the ministry was informed that greenhouse waste was being piled at the site and that liquid leachate was running off from this material,” the ministry’s news release states.

Staff inspected the site a number of times and “observed large quantities of waste with pools of leachate at the sides and noted a strong rotting odour.”There was also concern about a well pumphouse that was in poor condition and close to the waste. “Dark liquid was pooled around the base of the pumphouse and there was black frothy liquid in the well pit,” officials said.

The ministry ordered the company to remove the leachate and submit a detailed abatement plan to deal with the discharge of odour from waste or leachate at the site. The company was also told to stop bringing the cannabis waste to Dresden.

“None of the requirements in the ministry Order were met by the compliance deadlines,” the ministry said in the news release.

“Based on aerial photography of the site, taken in January 2020, it was determined that 8,613 tonnes of waste was present at the site, contrary to the terms of the ministry approval issued to Waste Wood Disposal Ltd.”

Waste Wood Disposal and the numbered company were convicted of six charges February 13, 2024 and sentenced to pay $65,270 in fines and victim fine surcharges in Chatham Court in late March. The company has been given four months to pay the bill.

The cannabis waste and the leachate it caused led to the ministry checking three wells of the homes closest to the site. Dave Willson has told The Herald the testing didn’t raise concerns. He’s since used the results of the test to show methane was not present in his well until York1 started digging test wells in 2022.

During its first public meeting about York1’s proposal, company officials said they had been cleaning up the leachate left behind by Waste Wood Disposal. But one local environmentalist is raising concerns about the incident, how the ministry handled it, and what it could mean for the York1 project.

Kevin Jakubec was “absolutely shocked” to learn of the leachate problems and the conviction of Waste Wood Disposal. And he’s concerned the ministry isn’t taking the issue seriously.

“You’ve got the Ministry of Environment considering allowing a landfill to be developed there, when the Ministry of Environment knows that there are leaching spills on that very same property. And the ministry failed to do a comprehensive investigation for any of the contaminants on site,” he says.

Jakubec, the founder of Water Wells First, obtained a letter from the ministry’s regional director which says more well water testing will be done. It provides a list of contaminants the ministry will be looking for. Jakubec brought the list to experts in the field who said looking for those specific contanminants would not constitute a comprehensive investigation of the wells surrounding the dump.

Jakubec says the dormant dump should never have been considered for reopening since the ministry knew of the leachate problems.

“We have no real clear understanding of the history of what’s been put on that site. So, when they were there (dealing with Waste Wood Disposal) that was the time for Ministry Environment to do a proper full characterization of contaminants on site.” Instead, Jakubec says, only the closest neighbours wells were tested. “That’s a joke…you just can’t test three wells; they have to test all the wells surrounding that site.”

Jakubec also points to the fact the ministry found over 8,000 tonnes of unauthorized waste.“We really don’t know what’s gone on there…. we don’t know what kind of leachate plume may be there.”
In the letter to landowners, Regional Director Deb Jacobs says the ministry is looking for approval to test wells in the future. It’s not clear when that will happen; the province’s bid to have the proposal for the dormant dump undergo a full Environmental Assessment hasn’t been finalized.

After reading the letter, Jakubec is concerned the province’s testing isn’t going to take the leachate already found on the site into account.

“The MOE is not looking for a pre-existing leachate plume at the Dresden disposal site nor intends to have York1 complete one. So, what parameters is the minsitry actually going to ask York1 to test the private wells for? Is it even meaningful or relevant?” he asks.

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