Column: Good idea, wrong location to burn railroad ties

How many noticed the poster and fact sheet that showed the proposed percentage of ties used in the plant could reach 50 per cent?

For those who attended the recent information session hosted by Atlantic Power Corporation on increasing the use of old creosoted railroad ties in the Williams Lake Power Plant (WLPP), also known as the co-gen plant, how many noticed the poster and fact sheet  that showed the proposed percentage of ties used in the plant could reach 50 per cent of the fibre mix?

Any mix approaching these high percentages would mean a massive transport of ties (and possibly other related and dangerous products) into our community.

Current science indicates that disposal of creosoted railroad ties is least polluting when burned in a hot, contained environment like the WLPP.

The main concern is where such a plant should be located. In my opinion these kinds of plants should be built well away from any populated areas and their critical water sources.

Operations using a large percentage of treated feedstock could eventually become the repository for a wide variety of dangerous products.

Also consider the human tendency for monitoring and quality control to become lax as time goes on and equipment to become less efficient and properly maintained.

Hence, the need for a considerable buffer from populated areas. With the ongoing discussions about the Mount Polley mine breach, the public is going to be sceptical about industry claims about not creating adverse health, safety and environmental impacts on the community.

A much smaller proposal to burn railroad ties in Kamloops was rejected because of potential health concerns.

This proposal was to use the latest technology and was small in comparison (two one-megawatt plants compared to the 66 megawatt plant here).

Local politicians and residents should be concerned about Williams Lake becoming the railroad tie burning capital of the province or of western Canada. More thought needs to go into the alternate use of rail ties and where a processing plant should be located which would burn a high percentage of  rejected ties.

An anticipated short fall of sawlogs caused by the mountain pine beetle epidemic could come within the next five to 10 years and would mean a reduction of lumber production, as well as the resultant residual material (chips, sawdust, bark, etc.) currently used by the WLPP and pellet plant.

In my opinion the anticipated fibre shortfall for the cogeneration plant in Williams Lake  and possibly the pellet plant could be met by using the residual fibre left on many logging sites.

The majority of the cull piles (cull logs, tops, branches, etc.) following logging have been traditionally burned on site because this material was considered too expensive compared to the relatively cheap residual fibre coming from the lumber mills.

I think Atlantic Power Corporation has a responsibility to the people of Williams Lake and surrounding communities to look at all fibre options to meet the anticipated shortfall, especially if it minimizes health risks and reduces local green house gas production.

All levels of government need to encourage the best use of our resources along with protecting our health and environment.

Jim Hilton is a professional agrologist and forester who has lived and worked in the Cariboo Chilcotin for the past 40 years. Now retired, Hilton still volunteers his skills with local community forests organizations.

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