Algonquin Highlands council has committed to taking a deep dive into waste management options for Hawk Lake, two years after shuttering a landfill in the area.

The Hawk Lake waste disposal site was closed at the end of its life in 2021. No new landfill options were announced at the time, with the township opting instead to streamline services at other sites in Dorset, Oxtongue Lake, Maple Lake, and Pine Springs.

That proved a controversial decision. Many residents protested the closure, with council reconsidering its position last winter. During 2023 budget deliberations, council directed staff to investigate options to bring waste management services back to the Hawk Lake community.

At a Sept. 21 meeting, Melissa Murray, the township’s environmental manager, tabled five possibilities for council to consider. She said Peterborough-based consulting firm Cambium Inc. had assisted with the project.

“We’ve gone through a two-stage evaluation process and are looking at all options,” Murray said, noting the estimated start-up costs to establish a new service range from $100,000 to $515,000, with annual operating costs between $40,000 and $110,000. She said all five options could be brought online in the next two to four years.

To determine the appropriate scale of service delivery options, Murray and Heather Dzurko, representing Cambium, looked at past trends at the old Hawk Lake landfill, noting that, in 2019, the last year of statistics before the COVID-19 pandemic, 18 per cent of total waste site traffic township-wide was recorded at Hawk Lake. The pair said, based on previous numbers, around 600 residences would benefit from a renewed service during the summer, with around 230 residences utilizing it during the off-season.

From 2015 to 2021, an average of 11,235 vehicles accessed the Hawk Lake waste disposal site annually. In 2019, almost 16,000 bags of garbage were collected at the site.

The first option, Murray noted, is to open a transfer station at the old Hawk Lake dump location. Bins would be placed to store garbage and recycling until it could be transferred off-site. This proved to be the most expensive option, with design and construction estimated at $500,000, and annual running costs of $60,000.

A second possibility is to develop a stationary collection program. This would see the township purchase a waste collection truck, or contract out the work, to pick up garbage and recycling at specific locations on designated days and times. Costs would vary depending on what council wanted, estimated between $100,000 and $200,000.

Other options included contracting a local business to host containers for the collection of materials, estimated to cost between $50,000 and $100,000 to set up, and $50,000 annually; look for possible community-based sites where bins could be placed in central areas and managed by a cottage association or other like-minded entity, at an estimated running cost of $100,000 to $200,000 per year; or stick with the status quo and make no enhancements to service.

Mayor Liz Danielsen said she felt uneasy designating authority to a community group to collect materials, seemingly ruling out Option 4. Coun. Julia Shortreed said she would be worried about the longevity of a community-led effort.

“Let’s say everything goes gung-ho at the start – great. Then after a couple of years nobody wants to do it, then what?” she asked. Murray admitted there were “several challenges” with that model.

Council spent the most time discussing Option 2, involving stationary vehicles. Danielsen wondered how solid the numbers outlined in the report were, with Dzurko saying they should be treated as estimates only, with an RFP required should council wish to proceed.

Murray noted the District of Muskoka had some success launching a lakeside collection model recently, which offers seasonal and year-round locations for residents to dispose of waste. Danielsen said she’d like to see a breakdown of costs between seasonal and year-round options in Algonquin Highlands.

“We’re not going to make a decision on this today – this is something that would go to projects and priorities [later this year] and be balanced against the other things we have to do,” Danielsen said.

She asked if staff could reach out to Muskoka to see if a representative would be willing to share details about its new program, while also encouraging residents to reach out and state their preferred option.

“This is going to continue on for some time until we land on a solution that, hopefully, will work for everyone,” she added.