Town working to have public recycling compactor operational by June 15

By Ken Kellar
Staff writer

Following a fire that broke out at the town’s recycling facility over the weekend, the structure has been deemed a total loss, and steps are now in place to help navigate the process of getting recycling in Fort Frances back up and running.

On Sunday, the town made an announcement to its Facebook page sharing news that the municipal recycling building located in the town’s north end had caught fire at some point on Saturday afternoon, which led to crews responding from the Fort Frances Fire Department, as well as Ontario Provincial Police, Rainy River District EMS, Fort Frances Power Corporation and Town of Fort Frances staff. no injuries were reported in connection to the incident.

A release from fire chief Tyler Moffitt on Tuesday morning noted the department responded to the facility at approximately 4:49 p.m. on Saturday, May 27, 2023, and that the department had discovered the origin of the fire, but not its cause.

A separate press release from the OPP at approximately 2:00p.m. on Wednesday, May 31, 2023, noted that a 12-year-old has been arrested and charged with arson in relation to a fire that occurred at “a local business in Fort Frances” on the same day as the depot fire. The youth cannot be named under the Youth Criminal Justice Act, and the release from the OPP did not explicitly link the incident to the Town of Fort Frances facility.

As of 2:42 p.m. on Wednesday, May 31, 2023, the town said that it had not received official word of charges being laid by the Ontario Provincial Police in connection to the fire.

As a result of the fire, the entire recycling facility has been deemed a total loss, and has also led to the closure of the residential and commercial recycling compactors. Both those compactors were powered through the facility, and so they currently are unable to operate.

Late Tuesday afternoon, the town’s interim Operations and Facilities Manager Craig Miller provided another update in which it laid out the next few weeks ahead of staff as they work to resume recycling in town. The fire and how the town processes recyclable materials means that curbside pickup has been suspended until further notice, while the town is working to get the residential compactors operational again by mid-June.

“Initial clean up of the recycle depot has been completed. The building was a total loss and all that remains is the foundation, floor and cement walls,” Miller wrote in the statement.

“Both the public compactor and commercial compactor were fed power out of this building. All of the electrical equipment in the building was a total loss. For residents unaware, when recycle was collected curbside, it was dumped in the recycle depot and then later put into the commercial compactor for compaction before shipping to the recycle plant in Winnipeg.”

While the disruption is significant, the town stressed that residents will not be allowed additional garbage bags without bag tags in the interim period, instead asking the public to store their recyclables until they can once again be processed.

According to the statement issued by the Town of Fort Frances, procurement of new electrical equipment for the site is already partially complete, with delivery of some of the equipment expected by June 9. After that the town will install the new equipment and transformers in order to try and have the public recycling compactor running by June 15.

The next step, Miller wrote, is to bring in an engineer to assess the remaining foundation to determine it it can be reused, with designs for a new recycling depot expected to be completed by June 23 so long as there are no significant setbacks to the existing foundation caused by the fire.

The Town of Fort Frances shared this photo to their official Facebook page reminding residents to not drop off their recyclable materials at the residential compactor until the unit is back in operation. The compactor received its power through the recycling facility, and it will take a few weeks before that power can be restored. – Town of Fort Frances / Facebook

After that point, no firm dates are given as all subsequent work will be on the timeline of the RFP process, as well as the delivery of required materials and related construction work. The town noted it is also still working on developing a plan to restart curbside pickup, which can’t begin until the commercial compactor is once again functional.

In the days since the fire, the town has issued an additional statement in regards to members of the public evading barricades set up at the public recycling compactor and leaving their refuse behind. In a Tuesday afternoon Facebook post with an accompanying photo showing mounds of recycling left at the compactor, and echoing a statement regarding the compactors made on Sunday night, the town again reminded residents to not drop off recycling until work could be done to have the device up and running again.

For those residents with questions about the fire and restoration plans, they are invited to contact the town at a specially created email address.

“An email address has been created for questions and concerns specifically related to the recycle fire and restoration project and is listed at the end of this update,” Miller wrote.

“Please email with any questions or concerns. Please be respectful.”