Lystek Listens & Learns From Public
In the early 2000s, NEBRA led a major WERF project on public perceptions of biosolids and how to work with the public. The study delved deeply into social science and provided understanding of the various reactions to biosolids recycling. It became clear that our profession needed to do better at working with communities in which we operate, adapting to meet local needs, focusing on the highest quality management practices, and communicating in ways that work for local people.
Since then, NEBRA has reached out to assist biosolids management programs that run into trouble with public upset. WERF had facilitated our learning about working with the public, so we wanted to help spread the knowledge. When media coverage in Ontario in 2012 focused on conflict over the siting of a biosolids processing facility in Dundalk, we contacted the facility developer, Lystek.
But this was one case where the biosolids management company knew how to listen and learn, how to work with the public. Over the next year, Lystek sat down with town leaders, area farmers, and citizens and patiently discussed concerns. They facilitated tours of an existing Lystek facility. They printed newsletters with project updates and had an information booth in town. They facilitated and encouraged a Public Advisory Committee of community members, who scrutinized the proposed facility plans and mediated discussion (example of PAC work). They encountered surprises and learned about the community. They strove to be consistent, transparent, and sincere. They slowly built trust and credibility.
Not that they convinced everyone. They responded patiently to a lawsuit (which they won), physical blockades of the site access road, and First Nations concerns. And they had to adapt and improve along the way. As Kevin Litwiller of Lystek explained in a January 2015 blog: "That is not to suggest we have never had challenges. Quite the contrary. However, I submit that we are actually thankful for that historical experience, because it forced us to become much better - at everything we do."
Taking the time to work with communities is costly, challenging, and sometimes uncomfortable. It requires being willing to change plans and practices to learn from critics! But all this is necessary if a biosolids program is going to be truly sustainable.
Impressed with Lystek's outreach & communications, NEBRA specially invited Lystek to discuss their public outreach work at the 2013 Annual Northeast Residuals & Biosolids Conference in Concord, NH (see presentation.)
In September, 2014, Lystek celebrated the first year of success of its Southgate facility in Dundalk, with ~130 people in attendance. Today, that Lystek facility operates successfully, processing wastewater solids from several treatment plants in the region. The resulting fertilizer is in high demand by area farmers.
And, as 2015 begins, Lystek is celebrating the opening of another new facility in Saskatchewan.