Ontario's Trash for Sale or Rent, Price To Let - 50 Cents

WANTED: a new home for 1.4 million tons of Toronto-area garbage each year. Site must be environmentally safe. Will consider shipping to United States if the price is right.

After nearly a decade of trying in vain to find a new place to send its garbage, Toronto finally may be closing in on one.

Toronto councilors are considering several options, including hauling the stuff to Detroit to be burned or moving it by rail 350 miles to Adena, Ohio. There is even one proposal to send Toronto's trash 1,800 miles by train to the central Utah desert.

Metro Toronto, which includes several municipalities surrounding the city, currently uses a landfill north of the city that could be full to the brim as soon as 1999. The city is looking to sign a contract valued at about $730 million ($1 billion in Canadian dollars) with someone who can guarantee a solution for the next 20 years.

With that sort of "gold" buried in Toronto's garbage, big waste-disposal companies are popping up to make their pitches.

Only one out of four current proposals envisions keeping the garbage in Canada. And that one may have environmental problems, since it involves dumping into an abandoned mine that has groundwater flowing into it.

The other sites all have environmental certification.

The former socialist government of Ontario regarded shipping trash to the US - or anywhere outside the region - as immoral. Canadians should deal with their own trash, it argued.

But even though Canada has the second-largest land mass in the world (after Russia), there hasn't been a single place in densely populated southern Ontario where residents welcomed such a big pile of rubbish.

Much to the relief of city governments across the province, Ontario's new conservative government will allow the provincial garbage to go anywhere the free market will take it. And that looks like it's going to be the US.

Canadian union leaders say sending the garbage south will forfeit jobs here. They propose filling up the old mine or enlarging the current landfill. Both proposals are opposed by local residents.

"It's obviously controversial because of the huge amount of money involved," Metro councilor Case Ootes said. "There's been some concern about shipping it all the way to Utah, although that looks like a very attractive site."

Paul Clark couldn't agree more. As mayor of East Carbon City, Utah, he traveled to Toronto to pitch the virtues of the 240-million-ton capacity of the dump in his home town of 1,700 people.

Mr. Clark reassured Metro Toronto councilors that the residents of his town in the high desert of central Utah really do want all the waste the Toronto region's 4 million people can send.

The East Carbon City site proposal was made by Laidlaw Waste Systems Ltd., a giant waste hauler based in Mississauga, Ontario. If Laidlaw wins the contract, East Carbon City will receive 50 cents a ton for the garbage, about $500,000 a year. That will pay for new water lines and new city streets.

"Before we opened up our site a few years ago, this town couldn't even afford to buy a spark plug for a tractor," Clark said in a phone interview.

Ontario will allow its garbage to go where the free market will take it. That looks like it's going to be the US.

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