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A property rights solution to biosolids in the Nicola Valley

posted Dec 22, 2015, 10:59 AM by Joel Wood
People in the Nicola Valley (just south of where I am, Kamloops) have been up in arms about the application of biosolids (a fancy name for human sewage) at a composting site adjacent to the Nicola River.There is also another biosolids site planned (the Dry Lake site) in another area of the Nicola Valley, and residents in the region have voiced concern that the new location is uphill from a community well.

Today news broke that 19 people concerned about the new biosolids site, pooled their money and purchased the proposed Dry Lake site. This is a perfect example of a property rights solution to a perceived environmental threat. The residents are obviously willing to pay to avoid having a biosolids site in their neighbourhood, and more importantly were willing to pay more than the biosolids company. This will definitely turn into a useful example for my Environmental Economics class in the future.

This type of solution is not the norm with environmental issues though. Often the free-rider effect will prevent this from happening; there were 19 individuals who purchased the land, but more individuals probably will receive a perceived benefit from the purchase. In this case 19 individuals were able to form a coalition, but this would not always be the case. Also, people opposed to an activity will rely on influencing the political process to limit the activity. For example, there were a lot of mushroom barns near where I area up in the Lower Mainland and these barns smell terrible. As suburban residential development encroached on agricultural land, the new residents successfully lobbied municipal politicians to change bylaws to prohibit existing neighbouring mushroom barns. These new residents could have purchased the barns and closed them, but they used the political process instead.The political process is often cheaper for the victims and better at controlling for free-riders....though not cheaper for the polluting property owner.