COLUMNS: Hoping for responsible disposal of railroad ties

I am in favour of each community taking responsibility of its own garbage and not shipping it off for another community to deal with.

I am in favour of each community taking responsibility of its own garbage and not shipping it off for another community to deal with.

I think the same applies to the responsible disposal of railroad ties. What is a reasonable estimate of the number of ties replaced each year in the Williams Lake community?

I went to a site in the U.S. and found the following: each mile uses 3,249 railroad ties (i.e. one every 19.5 inches).  The annual replacement rate is from two to three per cent.

Using Google Earth and straight line distances, I got an estimated distance of 100 miles from the 108 airport to the Quesnel airport.

Taking into account the bends in the railroad track plus the double tracking in some areas, I estimated 200 miles of track. The total number of ties was about 650,000 and at a replacement rate of three per cent the number of ties replaced each year would be about 20,000.

Atlantic Power’s (APC) plan to burn from 800,000 to 1.2 million railroad ties per year means they would be bringing ties from a very large area.

It sounds like a lot worse than transporting garbage from Vancouver to Cache Creek.

I, like most people, was pleased with the reduction of fly ash when the power plant replaced the bee hive burners and electric power was produced in place of CO2 that went  into the atmosphere.

I am certain no one was anticipating that in 2016 we would be faced with a request to bring in millions of railroad ties to burn in that same plant in order to keep it running.

So the question is this, what is a reasonable number of railroad ties to burn in our community so that a company headquartered in San Diego, California can make a reasonable profit.

We must also consider that for each tie burned there is a portion of a job lost to contractors wanting to deliver road side logging debris (RLD) to that same plant.

An alternative to burning ties at APC, is to establish a one or two megawatt gas extraction plant somewhere along the rail line north or south of Williams Lake.

One of these state-of-the-art plants can produce the same power as an equivalent steam plant with half of the feed stock and would account for more than our share of the ties that are replaced each year in the Cariboo Chilcotin.

In the meantime APC needs to go ahead with the grinder so that roadside logging debris could be used in their plant and have another discussion with BC Hydro to see if they can stay in business with a maximum use of around 20,000 ties.

If not it may be time to consider replacing this aging structure with one that does better than the estimated 25 per cent efficiency rate which is normal of this age and class of power plant.

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.