Alberta’s ombudsman has found that the province’s environment ministry did not follow legislation and policy after issuing an enforcement order against a northwest Edmonton composting facility.
Cleanit Greenit Composting Systems stopped producing compost last year after losing its provincial registration.
Residents had complained for years about an intermittent stench near the business and Alberta’s environment ministry — then called Alberta Environment and Parks and now named Environment and Protected Areas — had found “ongoing and persistent issues related to air, land and water.”
In accordance with a provincial order, the company can no longer accept waste and must remediate its location by August 2024.
Trumpeter neighbourhood resident Sarah Hunter, who started a petition and helps run a Facebook group about odour near the facility, complained to the ombudsman about how the province responded to her concerns.
She complained that the ministry had failed to address environmental and odour issues linked to Cleanit Greenit, refused to give her information about actions following her complaint and that the Environmental and Dangerous Goods Emergencies hotline had told her to report problems to the company.
In a letter sent to Hunter last week, Ombudsman Kevin Brezinski said his office investigated her complaint and found that the environment ministry “did not act in accordance with legislation and policy” regarding its 2011 enforcement order against the company.
The letter said the government failed to stop environmentally harmful activities at Cleanit Greenit for more than seven years and failed to implement progressive enforcement actions. It also said the government did not ensure its enforcement was “timely, consistent, firm and fair.”
“By allowing a lapse in active, formal enforcement for over seven years, the department effectively failed to meet your expectations, and in fact the expectations of all Albertans, that it would protect the environment,” the letter said.
Brezinski said the government provided an incorrect reason for delaying enforcement proceedings and that the practice of having complainants contact the company directly was not typical and therefore “administratively unfair.”
On Aug. 22 of last year, Peter Sherstan, the acting ombudsman, shared three recommendations with the deputy minister, Bev Yee.
Sherstan recommended establishing a robust oversight mechanism to ensure enforcement actions and compliance activities follow legislated requirements.
He also said the ministry should provide accurate reasons for its decisions.
The letter said Kasha Piquette, the new deputy minister of Environment and Protected Areas, told the ombudsman’s office on Dec. 22 that the ministry had accepted the recommendations.
Press secretary Miguel Racin said in an emailed statement that the ministry “is applying these recommendations in its approach to incidents and issues like those with Cleanit Greenit.” He also said the ministry is closely monitoring the Cleanit Greenit’s remediation.
Hunter told CBC News in an email that the ombudsman’s letter has brought closure to residents who felt the system had failed them.
“We are hopeful that with these new recommendations, this situation can be avoided in the future,” she said.