Toronto Judge Refuses to Order Sludge to Michigan
TORONTO Canada's largest city was under pressure to find new haulage contractors to handle municipally treated sewage after it lost a legal spat on Friday with a Florida-based waste-management company.
The city of Toronto sought a court order that would have forced subsidiaries of Republic Services Inc. to keep hauling 12 truckloads a day of municipal sludge to Michigan for 90 days. That amounted to about 150,000 to 160,000 tonnes a year.
But Ontario Superior Court Justice Katherine Swinton said on Friday there was no proof that Republic was obliged to take human waste, or "biosolids," under its existing garbage-disposal contract with the city.
Republic had warned municipal clients in June that it could no longer take sludge to the Carleton Farms site in sparsely populated Sumpter Township, Michigan, because it would run afoul of a state environmental order to stop hauling human waste there. Residents had complained about the stench.
A lawyer acting for the city said this week that the sludge might have to be dumped into Lake Ontario if no other place could be found, but that idea was quickly quashed by Mayor David Miller, who called it unacceptable.
"We're disappointed but we respect the decision," city spokesman Brad Ross said Friday after the court ruling.
The city doesn't face a smelly crisis, even though Toronto has storage space for only about five days' worth of sludge, he said. That is because officials signed two new contracts last week to have about half the sludge volume hauled to sites in Quebec and New York state, and is working with other contractors on potential deals, Ross said.
On sunny days, the city's biosolids can be hauled to farms in southwestern Ontario for use as fertilizer. And Toronto will try to accelerate the startup of a planned pelletizing plant, Ross said. This would convert wet waste into dry pellets for fertilizer use, but the plant is currently not due to start up until 2007.
Judge Swinton said she accepted that the Ontario environment could be harmed if short-term disposal sites are not found, but said the "extraordinary" order the city had sought was not appropriate in the contract dispute.
Republic Services should not be stuck in a position where it risks violating Michigan law by complying with an Ontario court order, Swinton wrote.
Fort Lauderdale, Florida-based Republic was pleased with the court ruling, spokesman Will Flower said. "We're very impressed that a decision was this quick in coming on a very involved matter," he told Reuters.