“This isn’t about us,” says Amie Baskin, holding her nine-month old son Gordon on her hip and handing him another slice of banana. “This is about what’s right. It’s about the future. It’s about fighting for the kind of world we want to live in.”
That may sound strange coming from someone who is fighting the prospect of a composting facility – a facility that would divert a ton of organic waste from the landfill and turn it into something her and her family could use on the farmland they are currently in the process of developing. But she says it’s not the concept itself that she’s against. And it’s not about the fact that it’s being proposed for her backyard – even though she knows full well that’s how it’ll be seen.
The City of Campbell River held a public hearing recently to amend the zoning of the property beside the current Campbell River Landfill on Argonaut Road to include “Compost Facility” in the list of permitted uses. Baskin and her husband Troy Burley live on the land directly adjacent to the property in question.
“We would very much like for there to be a compost facility here in Campbell River,” she says. “But maybe they could put it where they don’t have to tear down a whole forest to build it?” Baskin says.
“Where are the bears going to go?” she asks rhetorically. “You’re going to cut down their home and then put in something that smells really great to a bear or a raccoon or a rat, where do you think they’re all going to go? And then if you put up a really good fence to keep them out, they’re going to come here where my children are and my animals are. We’re working towards building a farm here, and I can’t have chickens or goats or whatever if they’re attracting animals here and then steering them onto our land.”
And when she says they’re “working towards building a farm here,” she means it. Baskin and Burley moved to the property in 2015, and over the past four years, they’ve put in “a million dollars, easy, once you count all the excavators, hoes and dump trucks,” Burley says, buying the property and starting to prepare the land to grow the crops they want to grow and house the animals they want to raise.
“We’ve been working so hard for so long to get where we are,” Burley says. “And there’s no problem with that. That’s what we wanted to do. But then to get an axe in our back like this, sometimes I feel, like, what have I done to my family?”
Burley pointed out to council at the public hearing that many communities are, in fact, removing composting facilities like the one being proposed next door.
Richmond shut down its composting facility in August of last year after years of complaints from residents about odour. This past June, a similar facility was ordered to close in Rocky View County, Alta, due to similar concerns. In July, Strathmore Alta. did the same.
“It’s not about composting being a problem, but they’re closing down these big super-size facilities all over the place, because there are these big problems with them,” Burley says. “If we’re going to make compost, we need to be doing it safely – not right beside – and uphill from – a ton of residents who get their water from underground aquifers and are trying to make the world a better place. This world and our town needs more people like my family. We need more farming and and more people using the land in their community to make it better instead of buying everything from Walmart.”
And they aren’t the only ones with concerns about the proposal. There was a lineup of speakers nearly as long as Argonaut Road itself at the public hearing looking to speak in opposition to the idea.
The Kolonsky family, which owns 125 acres with over one km of frontage along Argonaut Road, were also there to speak in opposition – including the 94-year-old patriarch of the family, Carl, who was helped down to the microphone by his son Don when it was his turn to speak.
“I purchased the property through veterans affairs many years ago, and I have many sad things to say about the whole thing,” Kolonsky says, telling various stories of what he sees as significant mismanagement of the dump over the years, saying “it’s been disgraceful. We’ve got enough trouble with everything that’s going on up there now. I can’t believe you people want to do this to people who have worked our asses off to get going on farming or whatever and you’re just gonna kill it completely. I just don’t know how the hell you can go ahead with something like this.”
At the close of the public hearing, council asked staff to come back with a report containing answers to the questions posed by various speakers for its consideration before giving the bylaw third reading and considering it for adoption.
But even if that should happen, it’s still not a done deal. It’s also only one of two possible locations being considered for the facility, according to Coun. Charlie Cornfield, who also sits on the board of Comox Strathcona Regional Waste Management. The land would also need to be issued a “non-farm-use” permit by the Agricultural Land Commission.
But Baskin says it shouldn’t even get that far.
“I guess I just think the city should be looking out for its residents a little better than this and not even let it get to the next step,” Baskin says. “Like, why would we keep putting waste facilities at the top of the hill above town, in the vicinity of where we get our drinking water and beside the rivers that sustain salmon populations that everyone says are super important to us, when there have to be a ton of other options?
“These are the choices we’re making for future generations,” she continues. “All we can do as parents is to try to make a better future for our kids, and I think that future needs to have trees and farming and clean water in it.”