The committee working on eastern Newfoundland's waste management plan isn't needed, charges the mayor of Conception Bay South.
"The City of St. John's has operated a dump for 100 years. What do we need a committee in place for?" wonders Woodrow French. "That's a concern that I got. This committee is costing a couple of million dollars. They are out renting space and so on and so forth, and I just think that money could be put to better use."
Established as the Greater Avalon Regional Waste Management Committee in March 2008, the board was charged with overseeing the "modernization of solid waste management" from Clarenville and east.
It's now known as Eastern Waste Management and it appears to have a number of irons in the fire, from closing landfills to fostering co-operation among communities.
Robin Hood Bay, St. John's legendary landfill, has been upgraded and is now the regional waste management facility.
Chairman Ken Kelly argues the board - which was appointed by the minister of Municipal Affairs - is necessary because of its mandate.
"Should the City of St. John's have to take on the task of planning a regional system that goes as far as Clarenville? Is that what the City of St. John's has been established to do?" he asks. "No, St. John's has been established for its residents to do what it's doing. It has a piece of infrastructure (Robin Hood Bay) that we're leveraging for the benefit of everybody in the region. That's their participation, their role."
It is not the capital city's place, Kelly adds, to build consensus among other communities, to shutter dumps or deal with waste from industrial projects.
Kelly also corrects French's numbers, saying the committee's annual budget is actually $200,000. The $2 million figure was a 2008 estimate on what it would take for the whole program over a two-year period, he explains. The prediction includes the committee's operating cost, plus the money needed to hire consultants for preparing plans and policies.
"The $2 million number would go to a lot of things," Kelly says.
French - long an outspoken opponent of what's happening with waste management - isn't the only municipal politician who questions why the committee exists.
Mount Pearl's deputy mayor thinks it was set up as a buffer between smaller communities and the province, the same way school and health boards fall between users and government.
Paul Lane says the mandate of the committee will involve making tough decisions for rural communities about infrastructure and transporting waste to Robin Hood Bay.
"There's going to be a lot of flack and more to come from the smaller communities as it relates to these additional costs and so on," he says.
Mount Pearl had a seat at the board's table, but walked away in December 2008 citing a litany of issues.
Included was the amount of bureaucracy and, according to Lane, the fact the second city didn't want to be part of the buffer.
"Government made the decision," he says. "Let them deal with the communities and let them deal with the issues related to it."
Kelly argues against the buffer theory, calling it a weak one. Government, he suggests, has set up the committee to help.
"We're working with a lot of communities on an individual basis. This is a mechanism to assist. It's not a buffer. It's a group that's coming together and doing this in a collaborative way."
He says the experience and knowledge around the table is being tapped and shared for the benefit of every city and town in the region.
That wouldn't be happening otherwise, he suggests.
"What if the City of Mount Pearl had a recycling program and what if the province didn't have a mechanism like this to assist and everyone in the region decided they were going to call Mount Pearl (to ask) how do you do recycling, why don't you teach us to do recycling, and they get 80 calls? This is an efficient and appropriate way to help share experiences and develop knowledge and allow everybody to participate."
Despite the criticism from French and Lane, the Department of Municipal Affairs appears satisfied with Eastern Waste Management.
"The committee consults with stakeholders, works with municipal leaders and builds community awareness," states an e-mail from a spokeswoman.
"It enables collaboration between communities, provides administrative support to the smaller municipalities and local service districts within the eastern region, and is responsible for setting fees.
The official uses a waste collection and transportation contract for eight local service districts in Trinity Bay South that the committee administers as an example.
"It will provide similar services to other areas as their regional plans develop, the provision of which can be challenging for communities with limited resources."
Some suggest St. John's carries too much waste management weight. See Tuesday's Telegram.