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Annapolis County seeks independent, third-party review on Valley Waste issue

['Annapolis County Warden Timothy Habinski spoke during the BRHS farewell. He praised BRHS during the school’s farewell gathering June 10.']
Annapolis County Warden Timothy Habinski has sent a letter to Nova Scotia's lieutenant governor and premier asking for either a judicial review or royal commission into Valley Waste and its governing municipalities.
ANNAPOLIS ROYAL, N.S. —

Annapolis County is asking for an independent, third-party review of the workings of Valley Waste and how it was governed by the municipal partners still involved in running it.

“On behalf of council I believe without question there needs to be an independent, third-party review of what’s transpired … with Valley Waste,” Warden Timothy Habinski said after a four-hour in-camera session at a special meeting Oct. 1. “A third-party, independent review is a judicial inquiry or a royal commission empowered to deal with organizations like Valley Waste. The circumstances in which we find ourselves are a consequence of a failure of governance on behalf of the other municipal parties.”

Annapolis County has found itself at odds with Valley Waste and its municipal partners over the past several years after questioning the legality of contracts that they believe were made in contradiction of provisions of the Municipal Government Act. The other municipal partners believe the contracts, that total more than $40 million, are legal.

Since operating its own waste management system for more than a year now, Annapolis County has a better picture of waste tonnages produced by Annapolis County residents and they don’t match what they had been paying Valley Waste, the county contends.

“Valley Waste, by our measure, has grossly over-charged taxpayers of Annapolis County,” Habinski said in the open council session. “How many similar organizations also fall through the cracks of inadequate governance elsewhere in the province? A judicial review would examine the mechanisms by which an organization like Valley Waste is created and operated and would perceive the flaws of exactly what it is that’s taken place; to have an opportunity to evaluate the behaviours of municipalities and the province itself as this entire, very, very complex picture unfolded.”

Annapolis County and Valley Waste dispute on Scribd

TRANSPARENCY SOUGHT

Habinski said council believes residents are entitled to ask for transparency on the issue.

“And we think a third-party review is the best way to obtain that to ensure that you’re receiving information that you can simply trust,” he said.

The county was drafting a letter to the governor in council Oct. 2, calling for the third-party review under the Public Inquiries Act.

Two councillors did not agree with the statement made by the warden on behalf of council, and a third councillor left after the in-camera session.

Deputy warden Martha Roberts wanted it on record that she didn’t agree with the statement.

“I also feel the same. I just need a little bit more time,” said Coun. Wendy Sheridan. “This has been overwhelming and I’m just not prepared to agree to it.”

She had opposed the motion to go in-camera, as did Coun. John MacDonald.

After almost four hours behind closed doors, MacDonald left before the public portion of the meeting resumed, saying he would not be talking about matters involving waste.

MUTTART RESPONDS

Peter Muttart, Kings County mayor and spokespersons for the municipal partners in Valley Waste, said Annapolis County council has every right to deliberate and make such pronouncements.

“We do not, of course, know what has given rise to them, because we have none of the in-camera discussion or deliberation from which to discern that,” he said. “We respect, completely, not only Annapolis County's right to state its opinion, but we continue to maintain our level of respect for each individual councillor.”

Muttart said the municipal partners asked the province to insert itself in the process almost two years ago and it declined, stating that this was a private contractual dispute into which it had neither the authority, nor the desire to intervene.

“For it to do so now would require it to apply the provisions of the Public Inquiries Act,” Muttart said, adding that prior statement would suggest that it neither has jurisdiction required under the act, nor the desire to do so.

“We offered binding arbitration, to be funded at the arbitrator level with provincial funds, and Annapolis County declined,” Muttart said.

LEGAL ACTION

“Finally - after two years of failed attempts at consensual resolution, and to our extreme reluctance - we found it necessary to bring the matter to a head by giving notice of legal proceedings,” Muttart said. “This matter could still be concluded by binding arbitration, of course - with full and open disclosure to citizens - but the cooperation necessary to do so is absent to date.”

Annapolis County is defending itself against claims in lawsuits filed by Valley Waste and its municipal partners, and the county has filed counter claims against both that asks for costs incurred by the county for purchasing new green bins and the value of Annapolis County’s share of its investments in Valley Waste.

“It truly pains us, as municipal units respecting the pocketbooks of our respective taxpayers and as units that have every desire to bind with, rather than fight with, our fellow municipality, to watch these attitudes prevail,” Muttart said. “We continue to differ, I fear, even in these last statements of the warden.”

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