Pinnacle Renewable Energy Inc.’s request to upgrade and expand production at its plant in Williams Lake was unanimously approved by city council at Tuesday’s regular meeting.
Final issuance of the permit, however, will not be approved unless Pinnacle’s application for an amended air quality permit with the Ministry of Environment is granted and its storm drainage design is approved by the City’s engineer.
Before council voted, several members of the public spoke against the development permit, many suggesting it is time the plant be moved from its present location at the southwest end of the lake.
Greg and Melinda Mitchell who live in the 1400 block of South Lakeside Drive told council the plant is in the wrong location.
“It’s a mess all the time,” Greg said. “It’s time to move it, not make it bigger.”
Melinda said she felt the citizens of Williams Lake were angry at council.
“This is in the wrong place and you all know it,” she said. “We should stop this big ugly eye sore in the middle of the city.”
Robin Fofinoff said every time she drives to and from home she is saddened when she sees the plant.
“I’m totally not against Pinnacle Pellet, and I totally agree we need jobs, but with the years that it’s still here I am getting angry and just sad,” she said. “It’s all I see when I drive in from work, when I drive back home from vacation. If we keep it there we are going to lose a lot of people in Williams Lake.”
Fofinoff suggested it could be moved where PAL Lumber was or to a more industrial location rather than a recreational location.
Ron Myhre, the general manager of Pinnacle, said because the plant was built in 2004, it is needing to pursue expansion because they are going to be receiving different fibre than in the past.
“We are looking at a lot of different residuals from the forest, that the operation is not designed to process,” Myhre explained, adding they are working with Tsi Del Del Enterprises on utilizing fibre from burned trees, slash piles that would normally be burned, cleaning up the forests and creating fire bands.
The company is committed to investing at a time when there’s downturn, he added.
Margaret-Anne Enders told council she lives on Tower Crescent and they can hear noise from the Pellet Plant 24 hours a day, seven days a week.
“There is a constant hum and we can hear it inside and outside of our house. We talked to Pinnacle about it during an open house and they said they would send out someone to see about the noise and they have not done that,” she added.
Enders said she is concerned about the air quality and that there is a noticeable difference when the plant isn’t running.
Allowing it there in the first place was a mistake, and approving the expansion and upgrade will just further that original mistake, Enders said.
“If they do stay in the location, paving should be required,” she added.
Percy Guichon, a board member of Tsi Del Del Enterprises, told council he fully supports the development permit.
“We provide biomass to Pinnacle and that has kept our companies working,” he said.
Another resident said the City needs to challenge the Pinnacle upgrade itself so that it is basically camouflaged with no noise, more landscaping, things that promote the secondary fibre industry.
All of council said they appreciated the public comments and said if it was possible to move the plant they would be in favour, but that they did not think it was feasible financially.
Coun. Scott Nelson said council has identified more than a dozen conditions to address concerns raised by the public, and even if the plant was on North Mackenzie Avenue in a more industrial zone it would still have to adhere to the same guidelines set out by the Ministry of Environment.
Mayor Walt Cobb said he feels the upgrade will be the “best case scenario.”
“That area is zone industrial,” he added.
Leroy Reitsma, president and chief operating officer of Pinnacle, told the Tribune in May that the company is “very much looking forward to” completing the proposed $30 million upgrade to the plant.
He said more recent advances in technology will better safeguard the 15-year-old plant from fires as well as make the plant more visually appealing and reduce emissions.
When Pinnacle started, its product was mainly used for wood heat, kitty litter and horse bedding. While it still has a market for those uses, Reitsma said the company has found a greater need in Europe and Asia where their condensed pellets are being used on a large industrial scale by becoming a carbon neutral replacement for coal to generate heat used in producing electricity.