A Gazette investigation reveals the city hasn’t addressed some safety precautions Aéroports de Montréal recommended to reduce risk of bird-plane collisions.
The city isn’t heeding some of the safety precautions that Aéroports de Montréal recommended to reduce the risk of bird-plane collisions around a municipal organic waste treatment centre that Montreal is planning to build near Trudeau airport, a Montreal Gazette investigation reveals. An examination of the contract specifications for the future centre shows some of the airport authority’s precautions are absent or partially addressed. However, the city maintains it has followed the airport authority’s recommendations.
As the newspaper reported last week, the city is currently evaluating two bids for the omnibus contract to design and construct the facility and operate and maintain it for five years on a site at 9091-9191 Henri-Bourassa Blvd., just east of Highway 13, in the borough of St-Laurent. It’s one of five organic waste-treatment centres the city has been planning for a decade in four locations around the island. Once the centre in St-Laurent is running, trucks are to transport organic waste collected in the western part of Montreal Island to the enclosed facility, where it will be turned into compost.
The site is less than two kilometres from Trudeau airport, on the edge of what’s categorized as the primary bird strike zone around the airport. Transport Canada’s zoning regulations around Trudeau airport were amended in 2016 to “limit certain human and industrial activities such as waste disposal, water parks and growth that would attract wildlife up to a distance of 15 kilometres.” Nearby residents and business owners have contested the location since the city selected it in 2012 as a replacement for another site in Dorval. They say the absence of some of the recommended safety precautions in the contract that’s about to be awarded only adds to their worries about odours and traffic.
“I think it’s despicable,” said Anne Klein, who lives in Ahuntsic-Cartierville borough, about 700 metres from the future composting centre. In response to public concerns, the city has repeatedly said the centre will be closed at all times with negative pressure to ensure that air is sucked in rather than out when a door is opened to let a truck in or out. The centre will also have air filters and a stack emitting air that will meet provincial norms, it says. The city has also assured that the tires of trucks bringing organic waste into the facility will be washed before they exit so they don’t drag putrid waste outside. That would attract gulls and other scavengers and create a safety concern for planes landing at the airport. However, the specifications to build and operate the centre, which are contained in a call for tenders package of more than 5,000 pages, don’t impose an obligation on the future builder/operator to ensure trucks and truck tires are washed before they exit. Instead, the specifications call for the winning contractor to install a pressure washing system with flexible retractable hoses and spray guns in each unloading bay to “allow the truck tires to be adequately cleaned.” And the specifications call for the winning contractor to “actively promote the use of these devices by drivers.” However, Aéroports de Montréal called on the city to ensure that trucks and truck tires are washed before exiting the facility. It was one of about a dozen caveats the airport authority outlined in an October 2012 letter to the city regarding the St-Laurent composting centre.
“The operation of a composting centre in proximity to an airport can cause an increased risk that the presence of birds poses to aviation safety,” the ADM’s vice-president for airport operations and air services development at the time wrote in the two-page missive. “While we indicated to you that we favour another site, we understand that the city is maintaining its decision to build on this site one of the four composting centres. Considering the site is located less than two kilometres from the airport, mitigation measures, prevention and management of birdstrike risk are needed.”
The city went to public tenders to award the contract for the facility in July 2017. The deadline for bids was repeatedly postponed until this past May. The specifications in the call for tenders impose some of the ADM’s recommendations on the future contractor. They include: keeping the doors to the facility closed at all times, immediate cleanup of spills outside the centre, draining stagnant water, training employees of the centre to count birds and not planting fruit trees around the site. The specifications also include installing “anti-bird devices in frequented places,” although the ADM letter specified an electric band placed atop buildings, on corniches and any other surface that birds could use as a perch. But the recommendation to oblige washing of trucks and truck tires before exiting the facility isn’t in the city specifications, and some other recommendations on the ADM’s list are also absent, distorted or partially addressed. For example, the ADM’s 2012 letter called for a weekly bird count to be transmitted to it and a representative who manages birdstrike risk for the airport. The city’s specifications only oblige the future contractor to produce a monthly report on the number of birds. The specifications also don’t indicate who should receive the monthly report. The ADM also called for minimizing grassy areas and bare patches on the site to avoid attracting birds to rest and feed. The city’s specifications call for the future contractor to “minimize large open areas of lawn over 500 square metres.” The contract specifications also call for the composting centre to have a green roof. And while another ADM recommendation calls for coniferous trees to be favoured over deciduous species to minimize attraction to birds, the city’s specifications call for the opposite: the future contractor is to “favour use of deciduous trees.”
Sheldon Harvey, who is vice-president and treasurer of Bird Protection Québec, laughed when told of the contradiction. “Both types of trees would attract nesting birds,” he said. “Any trees on any site can attract nesting birds.” Harvey also laughed about the green roof. “And then they want their employees to go out and count them and discourage them from being there,” he said. “It sounds to me like there are some contradictory things going on. If you want the site to look nice so it doesn’t offend people in the area and you want to make it look green — well, birds like green. It’s just going to draw them there.” Harvey’s 100-year-old charitable organization offers education, but doesn’t engage in lobbying. One measure to avoid attracting birds, he suggested, would be to have a rule against composting centre employees eating their lunches outside. A flat roof is another no-no, he said. Flat roofs attract birds, particularly gulls, he warned. Leak-proof trucks are also a variable in keeping birds away, Harvey said. “I guess what they’re looking at is there’s going to be a heavy concentration of trucks going in and sitting there waiting.”
The ADM’s recommendations included leak-proof trucks, washing the road that will lead into the composting centre at four specific times of the day and establishing a plan to minimize wait times for trucks entering the centre. However, these measures don’t appear to be in the city’s contract specifications. The specifications state the future contractor will have to “periodically evaluate with a competent biologist the bird population and other nuisance animals” and “collaborate with the competent authorities or agencies named by them” to control birdstrike risk.
The city says it has properly followed the airport authority’s safety precautions. “The requests formulated by the ADM were integrated into the tender documents as they should be,” city spokesperson Gabrielle Fontaine-Giroux said in an email last week. “The city has given us the required assurances in this project for the prevention of birdstrikes,” ADM spokesperson Marie-Claude Desgagnés said in another email last week. “We will continue our discussions with them in this sense before the centre is put into service.”