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Incineration fight not over, according to Abbotsford councillor

There could soon be more waste-to-energy facilities, like this one in Burnaby, constructed now that the provincial government has approved Metro Vancouver
There could soon be more waste-to-energy facilities, like this one in Burnaby, constructed now that the provincial government has approved Metro Vancouver's plan to burn garbage.
— image credit: Web photo

Disappointed.

That’s the one word Patricia Ross keeps using when asked about the provincial decision to approve a Metro Vancouver waste management plan that includes an incineration component.

The Abbotsford councillor and chair of the Fraser Valley Regional District (FVRD) is a vocal opponent of trash burning.

She was shocked by Monday’s announcement from the B.C. environment minister.

“I’m extremely disappointed and let down. I was hoping that the minister would stand up for the people of the Fraser Valley,” said Ross.

She said Environment Minister Terry Lake has “completely missed the point” of the FVRD’s objections.

“We are trying to reduce the pollution in our stressed air shed, not add to it  – no matter how high they say the standards are.”

The provincial endorsement includes a number of conditions, including consultation with the FVRD before waste-to-energy (WTE) incineration sites are approved.

“Consultation? Isn’t that what we’ve been doing for the past two years?” said Ross, adding she doesn’t feel optimistic that Metro will start listening now.

A WTE plant is used to incinerate garbage and create steam. The energy created can then be used instead of fossil fuels which proponents of the process say will be more environmentally-friendly than shipping trash to land fills.

However, opponents say the burning process will add more toxins into the valley’s air.

Quoting a Metro report, Ross said 57 per cent of the Valley’s air pollution comes from Metro Vancouver, while the Valley only generates 14 per cent.

“I’m tired of facing a threat from people who don’t have to breathe in what they create.”

Ross said WTE facilities will only be required to report a “small handful of the pollutants” actually emitted, “so what they say they will emit and what is actually going into the air are two very different stories.

“What will happen is what we saw happen in Durham, Ontario,” she said, where the company bidding for approval claimed a low amount of emissions would be produced.

“They are now admitting double the particulate matter emissions than they originally estimated,” Ross said. “But now, no one wants to go back and revisit, so it proceeds regardless of the impacts.”

Ross feels the only way to get the point across is to bombard members of the Metro board and the minister of environment with emails and letters objecting to the decision.

“We have to take a stand, like we did with SE2,” she said.

The SE2 (Sumas Energy 2) fight took place in 2002 when a natural gas power plant was proposed to be built in the U.S. near Sumas.

Thousands of people in Abbotsford and across the province, including Metro Vancouver, joined forces to protest and eventually defeat the plan to construct the plant, which opponents said would emit toxins into the Valley's airshed.

Abbotsford Mayor George Peary said the FVRD did its best to convince Metro that incineration was not the way to go, “but the ministry said it was.

“Personally, my preference would be no incineration, but I have to put some faith in the provincial ministry and now we should move forward,” he said.

There are still some major hurdles for Metro to overcome, he said, including finding a site to build the incinerators.

“Nothing is imminent, this will take years.”

Peary said consultation will continue with Metro, he just wants the dialogue “to remain civil.”

While he cannot speak for council as a whole, the mayor doesn’t see incineration as part of Abbotsford’s waste management future.

“It’s unlikely we will want to be involved with a waste-to-energy system,” said Peary.

He said the city will have to examine the options available. Presently, Abbotsford has a deal with Metro Vancouver that has local waste trucked to the Cache Creek landfill.

Peary said once Metro stops sending trash to the landfill and begins incineration, the deal will likely end.

Chilliwack Mayor Sharon Gaetz has a different reaction than her Abbotsford counterpart.

She called on Premier Christy Clark to “overthrow” the minister’s decision. She said if the environment minister hoped to “placate” the Fraser Valley with promises of consultation “we are not placated.

“We are angry and frustrated,” she said. “We are opposed to incineration, period.

“To think that Metro Vancouver will be able to put more garbage into our airshed is frustrating to us.”

John Vissers, the Abbotsford representative for the group Zero Waste B.C., said an incineration plan is poor planning over the long term.

“This will severely undermine efforts by many groups to reduce the waste stream,” said Vissers.

He said a waste-to-energy scheme will leave municipalities reliant on the waste stream to feed their power producing plants.

Vissers added that the most serious concern has to be air quality.

“Instead of burying the trash, we’re going to put it up in the air,” he said. “It just doesn’t make a lot of sense.”

He said Victoria let the Lower Mainland municipalities take a “quick fix.”

“We’re surprised the province didn’t encourage Metro to look a little harder for alternatives,” he said.

“This will set the tone for how we manage waste for the next – who knows – 50 years.”

The provincial government’s decision to allow waste-to-energy came with several pre-conditions. They  include:

  • Consultation with the FVRD to address air quality concerns prior to construction of a new or expanded WTE facility.
  • Establishment of a working group with the FVRD to develop recommendations on WTE emission standards and environmental monitoring, as well as mitigation measures to address “reasonable concerns of the FVRD” with respect to additional WTE in-region.

If no agreement can be reached, an arbitrator is to make a recommendation.

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