Waste company launches multi-million dollar lawsuit against municipality, politicians

According to an article by Jennifer McLarty in the community newspaper the Cowichan Valley News Leader, a waste management company represented by Ms. Claude Boucher is involved in litigation against the Cowichan Valley Regional District (CVRD — on Vancouver Island) and three local politicians. The company, Westcoast Waste Landfill Diversion Corporation, built a composting plant in nearby Cobble Hill that has been the subject of previous controversy and ongoing operational problems. Another company operated by Ms. Boucher, HUWS Corp., built a waste-processing plant in the Town of Caledon in Peel Region, Ontario (on the outskirts of Toronto) using the same patented German Herhoff technology as the Cowichan Valley plant.

Westcoast Waste is suing the CVRD and three local politicians for more than $17 million in damages. The company claims the CVRD, directors John Middleton and Loren Duncan, and former director Richard Hughes have tried to "destroy" its business through media attacks, abuse of public office, and/or the failure to negotiate a waste supply contract.

Westcoast’s five-page statement of claim, filed July 9 with the B.C. Supreme Court, states that "…the damage to the plaintiff’s viability is irreparable." The company accuses Hughes of inducing it to locate its composting plant in Cobble Hill with promises the CVRD would pass bylaws and enter into waste supply contracts needed to make its operation viable. The claim alleges that the former director was motivated by a $1,500 referral fee he received as a real-estate agent in 1999 for matching Westcoast with the property it ultimately purchased and built its plant on. (This allegation was the subject of previous public attention and media coverage.)

The claim also suggests Hughes attempted to gain further benefits in exchange for ensuring the CVRD followed through on directing yard and garden waste to the Fisher Road plant. The company says that when it refused to cooperate, Hughes began "a campaign of deceit and libel" instilling "fear, anxiety and panic" in the public over odour and water quality concerns linked to its composting plant.

According to the News Leader, Middleton, MLA Brian Kerr and staff from the provincial environment ministry met recently to discuss odour and water quality concerns raised by the district, and residents living near the Westcoast plant.

The CVRD is subsequently cited for failing to produce a yard and garden waste contract, and allegedly interfering with commercial haulers taking refuse to the south-end facility.

Westcoast also accuses Duncan of threatening that the company’s relationship with the CVRD would deteriorate further if it didn’t stop accusing Hughes over the $1,500 real-estate referral fee.

Middleton is accused of trying to erode Westcoast’s waste supply by investigating the possibility of a CVRD-contracted garbage collection service in Cobble Hill.

District administrator Frank Raimondo confirmed that the CVRD has received the writ and will respond in court. Hughes, Middleton, and Duncan declined comment on the advice of lawyers.

Westcoast’s statement offers no evidence to back its claims, which are simply accusations unless proved in court. According to Westcoast spokesperson Claude Boucher, the Cobble Hill facility will close if the lawsuit is successful, but otherwise has no immediate plans to shut down. The $17 million in damages would cover the company’s initial $5 million investment, $1.5 million to dismantle the plant, and $10,870,000 for loss of future profit.