By Steve Hubrecht

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An Invermere resident is raising concern about the potential environmental impacts of the new Regional District of East Kootenay (RDEK) composting facility, which is being built down in Athalmer, right next to the District of Invermere’s sewage lagoons and the Ray Brydon Park.

John Niddrie recently moved back into Invermere after a decade of living up on the Toby Benches, and has spent plenty of time in Ray Brydon Park and nearby areas over the past year. He was surprised to learn earlier this year that the RDEK is building a new composting facility in the area, and has some environmental concerns about the project, particularly a large pile of dirt that has been pushed up.

The pile is about 100 metres by 150 metres and about two or three metres high, he described. 

“We heard from one of the workers today that the material that was pushed off the site to make way for the new composting facility will remain because it is contaminated soil and (contaminated with) other material from the sewage lagoon.  My main concern is that this area is part of an important bird area for a variety of species and needs to be properly reclaimed – not just hydro seeded and left,” he said.

Niddrie, who is known to many valley residents through his work in resource conservation with Parks Canada and his nature photography, noted the spot where the composting facility is being built has a unique micro-ecosystem with poplar trees and cool winds blowing out of nearby Toby Creek Canyon. He has found 25 different bird species in the area, and that’s just from casual morning dog walks rather than any concerted effort to document birds. Niddrie has spoken with several other residents who share his concerns.

“We do need (composting) facilities. But whether it is being put in the right place, I don’t know,” Niddrie told the Pioneer. “For sure it is a loss of bird habitat. It is a wildlife corridor. There are not many areas with an ecosystem like that in Invermere, or even elsewhere in the valley . . .  residents should be aware of it.”

Invermere Mayor Al Miller said he is not aware of any contamination of the soil. In terms of the location, Miller said “certainly the district took a long look at the options of where to place it (the composting facility) and it was decided that (by the lagoons) was a reasonably good area. It (the spot) was in line with the RDEK and that was the final choice.”

Invermere had looked at putting the new composting facility by the transfer station, but there wasn’t really enough room there, said Miller, adding “it was felt that, for the size, by the lagoons was better.”

The project is a joint effort between the District of Invermere and the RDEK, explained Miller, adding the RDEK is doing the building and “for environmental assessment that would be the RDEK.”

An RDEK official, however, told the Pioneer otherwise. RDEK acting general manager for environment and engineering Jim Penson said the RDEK is relying on the environmental assessment for Invermere’s waste water treatment plant. 

Penson explained that “the soil they are dealing with (in the pile) is from the (Invermere) waste water treatment property. The only containment might be some bio solids. At this point it would be fertilizer more than anything . . . (and) it’s not going to stay where it is now. It’s only temporary storage.”

Eventually the dirt will be pulled back and either trucked to the landfill or used for road construction, outlined Penson. 

In terms of impacting the ecosystem “nothing should change. In fact, the environment should get better,” said Penson. 

The facility is located next to the Invermere sewage lagoons because one of its major purposes is to take the product from the lagoons and compost into something useful, explained Penson. “That’s the reason it’s there. To help them (the District of Invermere) with their bio solids. We will eventually also incorporate compost waste material collected from the public as well,” he said.

Penson stated he wasn’t sure at what point in the future collecting compost from the public, such as organic food waste and garden waste, would begin or even with the primary objective of composting bio solid waste from the sewage lagoons would begin.

“At this point our mandate is to build the facility. We will figure out operations further down the road,” he said.

Although there may not be much above ground construction yet, the facility is about 50 per cent of being complete, explained Penson, adding that because of the soil conditions, a lot geologic and soil work had to be completed first.

(Photo by John Niddrie)