WTE environmental assessment not enough according to Patricia Ross

Abbotsford's Patricia Ross fears Metro's plan to incinerate waste will hurt Fraser Valley air shed, despite any environmental assessments.

A provincial announcement this week has done little to reassure opponents of Metro Vancouver’s plan to use waste-to-energy technology to dispose of garbage.

On Monday, B.C. Environment Minister Terry Lake revealed new regulations which will require any WTE facility, regardless of its size, to undergo a full environmental assessment.

But Abbotsford Coun. Patricia Ross, a vocal opponent of Metro’s waste management plan, said the announcement wasn’t enough to alleviate her concerns.

Metro Vancouver wants to build a facility capable of processing between 250,000 and 400,000 tonnes of garbage each year.

At present, Metro ships most of its trash to a landfill in the Interior.

“I think it’s a good requirement for any incinerator throughout the province. However, specifically to this airshed, it’s not the announcement we were looking for.”

Ross, who is also vice-chair of the Fraser Valley Regional District (FVRD), said she appreciates the decision to give more scrutiny to Metro’s project, but the FVRD has already done the research, including taking a close look at all of the current technology and regulatory requirements.

“There is no way to make garbage incineration safe in this uniquely confined and challenged airshed. That’s the bottom line.”

Ross said it isn’t just human health concerns. She wonders how “some of the most productive agricultural land in the world” may react to the emissions.

“Why would you risk all that? It makes no sense.”

Consultation between Metro and the FVRD, a requirement Lake insisted on when he approved Metro’s plan,  has yet to take place, but Ross said both districts’ staff have had discussions on how to start the process.

A location for any proposed WTE facility has not been decided.

The FVRD is concerned that emissions would drift into the Valley if a facility is built in the Lower Mainland.

There have been some suggestions to build the plant at Gold River, on Vancouver Island, which should alleviate local concerns regarding air quality.

However, Ross said she can’t support that idea either.

“I have a problem saying, ‘Don’t make us breathe in these toxins, but go ahead and do it to somebody else.’”

Abbotsford Mayor Bruce Banman shares many of Ross’ concerns.

He’s hopeful the announcement will spur more consultation, but said he still plans to “fight hard to make sure our air shed is not damaged.”

“I hope that the ministry of environment sticks up for the airshed and sticks up for the farm crops that are in this area,” said Banman.

He said he’s hopeful, but guarded.

John Vissers, a long-time environmental activist and spokesperson for Zero Waste BC, said while the announcement is a step in the right direction, he feels the environmental assessment process is flawed.

“They’re not cumulative. They are based on individual contributions to the airshed,” he said.

Vissers said industrial polluters “contribute incrementally,” and the assessments don’t take into account multiple polluters.

“Each one, individually, will pass the emissions standards, but collectively, they can make a significant negative impact.”

He said even if you don’t factor in vehicle traffic, there are only so many industrial point sources that can be handled in an airshed.

Standards for environmental assessment are set nationally, according to Vissers, and don’t take into account the unique qualities of the Fraser Valley airshed.

“The funnel shape, combined with the inflow and outflow of coastal air movements, combines to create levels of high pollution.”

He also believes incinerating garbage will demotivate people to recycle.