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Banff looking into new solution for sewage sludge

“The virus also decimated tourism in Banff, resulting in a significant reduction of biosolids volume sent them for processing, which further impacted their bottom line."
Banff Town Hall 2
Banff Town Hall

BANFF – The Town of Banff has found itself in a crappy situation.

The municipality is seeking a new solution to process dewatered sewage sludge, also known as biosolids, after Walker Environmental indicated it is struggling with its current business model that produces fertilizer for farmers.

In the interim, the Town of Banff has a new one-year contract with Walker as of July 1, based on the understanding administration is seeking alternative options for sustainable biosolids processing.

Town of Banff officials say Walker has attempted to gain a foothold in western Canada with limited financial success, noting an agricultural trade war with China and COVID-19 delivered additional blows.

“To their credit, Walker has maintained its contractual obligations over the last eight years,” said Ryan Moray, the Town of Banff’s manager of water services. 

Walker’s proprietary process blends lime kiln dust and cement kiln dust, for example, with biosolids and organics compost, turning it into fertilizer, or soil amendment, for crops such as canola and oats. It has historically been marketed as Banff N-Rich.

However, the company informed Banff administration last August that the current business model was not sustainable and let the municipality know it wanted to renegotiate the terms of the agreement. 

Moray said that Walker then informed the Town in April that poor weather and an agricultural trade war with China has impacted the liquidity of cash for farmers to spend on fertilizers. 

On top of that, he said the worldwide COVID-19 pandemic affected supply chains, increasing the risk of having a consistent supply of blended alkaline materials needed for the process.

“The virus also decimated tourism in Banff, resulting in a significant reduction of biosolids volume sent them for processing, which further impacted their bottom line,” Moray said.

On July 8, the Town issued a request for proposals for hauling about 2,500-plus metric tonnes of Banff’s biosolids from the waste water treatment plant to a compost facility in Red Deer Country.

The scope of work involves trucking biosolids two to five times a week, but due to odour concerns, the hauling would take place through the Banff townsite during early morning hours.

Town of Banff officials say they don’t believe the existing processing facility, which cost $1.57 million to get up and running, will be practical into the future.

“The market is dictating the change,” said Paul Godfrey, the Town of Banff’s director of operations. 

“It is something that we are proud of, but the fact is, it’s not sustainable anymore.”

Councillor Chip Olver said the process to manage biosolids is ever-evolving.

“You find a solution and over time that solution may not work anymore,” she said.

“The solution we’ve had for a number of years needs to be revisited.” 

In 2012, the Town of Banff paid $1.57 million for the design, construction and supply contract with Walker to update and retrofit the existing compost facility at the waste water treatment plant into a fertilizer processing facility. 

As part of the arrangement, the Town would own the facility and Walker would operate it at a fee per tonne pricing structure. 

The plant was designed with capacity to process much more feedstock than the Town of Banff could supply, but for varying reasons, the Town of Canmore and Parks Canada did not end up supplying their biosolids.

“Unfortunately, the moisture content of Canmore’s biosolids at that time could not meet the approved quality standards required as the water to solids ratio was too high,” Moray said.

Under the previous agreement with Walker, the Town of Banff paid a processing fee of $95.23 per tonne. The new agreement will have a flat rate of $27,000 per month, plus a variable rate of alkaline used for production, which can range anywhere from $8,000 per month to $20,000 per month.

Prior to the Town of Banff contracting Walker in 2012, biosolids mixed with organics compost, wood chips and sawdust were shipped to a former landfill site at Castle Junction in Banff National Park for about 17 years.