Retired forester and Tribune Advisor columnist Jim Hilton said he was disappointed, but not surprised, with the Ministry of Environment’s decision to allow Atlantic Power to burn up to 50 per cent rail ties at its biomass-fuelled generating plant in Williams Lake.
As the company already had a permit to burn up to five percent rail ties but wasn’t doing so, the changes to the permit were actually minor to the original, Hilton said.
Hilton helped organize several public meetings around the rail tie issue and said the last meeting had what he considered a very poor turnout.
“My conclusion was that the local governments and majority of the population either supported or were indifferent to the burning of rail ties in this town,” Hilton said. “The relatively small but vocal group of concerned citizens could not motivate the masses into rejecting this proposal.”
Hilton said he also reached the conclusion there were many unknowns around the availability of a competitive alternate fibre source and it is very difficult to compare delivery costs with the rail ties.
Last week the Ministry of Environment notified the public through an advertisement in the Tribune Advisor and by letters it mailed to individuals and organizations, it had authorized the incineration of up to 50 per cent of wet weight of rail tie material and clean, non-hazardous construction and demolition debris at the plant.
Documents about the amended permit were posted on the ministry’s website, with a printed copy made available at the Williams Lake Library.
According to the ministry in its assessment report for the permit, there was a “low potential for adverse health effects as a result of the proposed change in fuel mix at the plant.”
The plant’s air modelling was reviewed by a Ministry of Environment Meteorologist who concluded no errors were found that would significantly affect the output from the models, and the contaminants that are expected to change as a result of rail tie burning were within air quality objective levels.
The report also stated it is unlikely the proposed changes would result in significant detrimental changes in the ambient air quality in the Williams Lake airshed.
Hilton, however, said his concerns with the permit are the “rather vague” wording of APC’s obligation to control or deal with fugitive odours or dust.
“Is there an objective way of measuring either of these substances apart from people sending in their concerns about either issue,” he said. “It is likely they will be burning rail ties in this town and it will be up to everyone to make sure APC lives up to their commitments.”
The ministry said it received more than 172 letters and an online petition titled “We the undersigned reject Atlantic Power Plants permit application to use creosoted railroad ties as a fibre source in the Williams Lake Power Plant,” gathered 466 signatures by June 2, 2016, mostly expressing opposition to the project.
“While the number of responses does indicate that there is resistance to the proposal, the petition does not state how persons are affected or provide other additional information for consideration,” the report noted.
Members of the public have 30 days to appeal from the date of the notice.
Retired paramedic Richard Vollo has inquired about the appeal process.
“It has been a hot button topic in the community,” Vollo said Wednesday after he got off the phone with the Environmental Appeal Board and learned no appeals had been received yet. “Any party affected by the decision has the right to appeal.”
Vollo has read the reports on the website and said the use of words such as “unlikely” and “predictable” are warning signs.
“Secondly, it’s unclear at first blush how diligent the monitoring will be and who besides the company will do it,” Vollo said.
The appeal process, he added, is quasi-judicial and takes place in a hearing setting where questions may be asked and evidence can be questioned.
“Certainly the community as a whole or at least those who are concerned should be putting their names forward to the appeal board stating their intention that they are willing to appeal so that we have this last opportunity to ask questions,” Vollo said. “At least we will get some straight answers.”
Further information on the appeal process is available by phoning 250-387-3464 or on the ministry’s website.
The Ministry of Environment did not respond to repeated requests for an interview by press time.