BUSINESS

Ryley, Alta.: the national capital of solid waste

BARBARA RIGHTON March 5 2007
BUSINESS

Ryley, Alta.: the national capital of solid waste

BARBARA RIGHTON March 5 2007

Ryley, Alta.: the national capital of solid waste

BARBARA RIGHTON

Forrest Wright envisions a day when garbage is rolling into tiny Ryley, Alta., from all across Canada. Wright is the head of the Beaver Regional Waste Management Services Commission, an ambitious group of five municipalities that have big hopes for what he calls one of the best landfill sites in the world.

In an era when towns fight to stop landfills, and “not in my backyard” has become the rallying cry of municipalities across the country, Ryley—a town that is already home to a hazardous waste facility and may soon open a coal mine—is loudly promoting the ne plus ultra of dumps, eager for more customers. “The engineers have said that if we wanted to take every tonne of garbage in Canada, this facility could handle it for 300 years,” Wright says.

In 2001, the commission turned an old 160-acre site into a 2,000-acre behemoth, buying the land owned by eight families. But better than capacity, Wright says, is the fact that Ryley’s dump is built on top of an “absolutely impermeable” geological anomaly known as the Bear Paw. “The ground here is like a swelling clay,” Wright explains. “To encapsulate garbage, what you want is a Tupperware bowl with no water underneath, and that’s what we’ve got.” In a village of450, the commission employs 25 people. It made a $2-million profit in 2006. Edmonton will add some $700,000 annually for its residential garbage in the first three years of a 30-year contract. Then the tonnes and the money will pile higher, says village CAO Ross Good. “The landfill is like anything else. How you look at it depends on your perspective.”

And from Marilyn Fenske’s perspective, Ryley’s nine-storey mountain of refuse is a disaster. The local cattle farmer’s property is right next to the dump, and she has been fighting the garbage men for years and losing. “Everybody is related to everybody here,” says Wright, “and they like it that their third cousin has a really good job, and a really good pension.” Unfortunately for Fenske, everybody else’s trash is turning into Ryley’s treasure. M