Ilan Goldenblatt, campaign manager for Vote Yes NRE, addresses Nanaimo city council about the recycling exchange on Monday at the Vancouver Island Conference Centre. (NICHOLAS PESCOD/The News Bulletin)

City council receptive to recycling exchange plans

Nanaimo city councillors indicate they will try to support NRE through the regional district

Nanaimo city councillors will look for ways to support the NRE, but say they will try to do so at the regional district level.

At a committee of the whole meeting Monday, discussion about the Nanaimo Recycling Exchange deteriorated to the point where the webcast was turned off and city staff left council chambers. By the end of the debate, however, most councillors had expressed support for the NRE.

Ilan Goldenblatt, campaign manager for Vote Yes NRE, made a presentation about the recycling exchange and suggested that since the City of Nanaimo has eight members on the Regional District of Nanaimo board, it can vote as a bloc in support of funding the NRE.

The non-profit, faced with an expiring lease at its current site, has said it will be forced to shut down at the end of March unless it’s promised a new facility that it would then lease.

Coun. Bill Yoachim said that with Nanaimo’s voting strength on the regional board, “we should just make it happen. Between here and the RDN we have to make it happen.”

He said council has to be fiscally responsible, but also responsible in other ways.

“This is a good expenditure for the people and the people need it and most of all, future generations need it. Our environment needs it,” Yoachim said.

Coun. Ian Thorpe said he sensed, among councillors, support in principle for the NRE.

“I think there is also a frustration that we don’t know exactly the numbers involved and what the ask is going to consist of. And I think we have to be responsible and know those facts,” Thorpe said.

The NRE’s business plan for a new facility, to be located on a property adjacent to its current site on Kenworth Road, hasn’t been made public. Coun. Jim Kipp said he’s seen it and said “the proposal is $10 million.” Goldenblatt said the report is coming and said councillors shouldn’t speculate; neither Jan Hastings, NRE executive director, nor Bill Veenhof, RDN chairman, would confirm project costs.

Kipp argued that one central recycling depot for the region isn’t convenient, and said everyone driving a long way to drop off a few pickle jars and pieces of styrofoam creates an “environmental nightmare.” He prefers the idea of drop-off points across the region.

He said due to “misinformation,” councillors have been “cast as villains” who are going to close the NRE.

“None of us at this table want to close it down…” Kipp said, adding that if the regional district were to pay for a $10 million facility, the City of Nanaimo’s share would be 56 per cent rather than 100 per cent. “I’m going to get RDN to develop the NRE, to spread it across the RDN so people in Parksville don’t have to drive to Nanaimo to drop their glass jars off.”

Thorpe said the theory of recycling nodes sounds great, “but that’s talking about an expansion of NRE, and if we don’t do something to help save NRE, forget about the nodes, the central location will be lost.”

Coun. Sheryl Armstrong said she likes the recycling exchange’s concept for a new facility, but wants more information and worries that the building would be useless if the NRE were to fail.

Coun. Diane Brennan said supporting the recycling exchange comes down to taking a principled stance for the planet and what’s right.

“We need to do this. If we need to raise taxes, that is what we need to do. This is a much bigger issue than holding the line on taxes,” she said.

Goldenblatt said citizens have indicated to him that supporting the recycling exchange could be an election issue and Coun. Gord Fuller, though he said he supports the NRE, took offence.

“I love it when people come up to the podium and threaten me…” he said. “Because when people do that, the immediate reaction is you start to think, well, wait a minute, I’m not going to support them for crap because they’re threatening me.”

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