A project for our future … or to destroy our futures?

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Our MRC’s warden, Jane Toller, deserves credit for her many innovative proposals to improve Pontiac’s economy and our daily lives. This is a municipal system ruled top down; often MRCs seem to be working for Quebec City, not their locality. Ms Toller has persisted. Her proposal for a regional swimming pool seems her most popular idea, although finding a location beneficial to the largest number and one which already offers some facilities is not easy, plus there’s the question of funding. Ms Toller’s most ambitious proposal is for a waste-incineration facility to produce energy (electricity). This energy can attract new industries, jobs, and help the planet by “recycling” what now goes into landfills — or is shipped long distances to be buried or burned.

Let’s support Ms Toller and the mayors to move this proposal along. Its first step, apparently, is a series of public hearings across the MRC. The project will depend on public participation and on the MRC’s resources and planning rigour.

We, the voting public, do have a role; our support and our concerns are crucial.

As with most planning, the devil is in the details. So far, we don’t know many details — about the incineration facility itself, its location, ownership and management, and very critical are details about what sort of waste is to be used — most of it imported — and how that importation is managed. What sort of “waste” is to be reprocessed? Question two: what is the source of this waste and its delivery to the facility — heavy trucks on our fragile road network? And what will happen to waste that cannot be converted to energy, where will it go, and, then, what?

Finally, the big, scary question: what is the minimum volume of waste needed to make this project feasible? If the waste comes from Ottawa/Gatineau, what are the volumes these areas can provide? This is critical, because if the project cannot obtain sufficient volumes of waste, what will happen? The project closes? Or alternative sources of “waste” are needed? Here’s the alarm bell for the Pontiac: how can we access steady, sufficient volumes of genuine useable waste?

The absolutely most destructive answer is “forest waste”. We must be assured that no plan will require Pontiac to shred its forests to provide raw material.

Scary? Because, for example, a European biomass producer, Endiva Corporation, converts quick-growing trees to pellets, which are sold for heating and for powering electricity generators. Sounds reasonable at first, except that Endiva’s facilities have been blamed for the destruction of vast forest areas of southern USA (southern pines of Georgia and northern Florida) and large sections of B.C. Think about it: to get enough volume, what must be chipped is not slash, brush, and forestry waste but our healthy, valuable forest, much of it hardwood. The European Union has stepped into this problem with Endiva and is now studying a ban on “all biomass taken from forests”, because the destruction has been so startling.

Healthy forests require diversity (species and ages) and also require waste, old trees, to create the fertility which supports a forest. Shaving a forest of pine and poplar will lead to lost fertility in the future, creating a barren waste-land rather than healthy, productive forest.

We certainly don’t want shaved forestland here in the Pontiac which blends Boreal forest, southern cropland, and hardwood forests. We must know before this waste project is approved: what is the back-up plan for accessing sufficient biomass — how much, and from where? What are our guarantees (we don’t want another Chalk River radioactive waste site, with its “oh, there’s nothing dangerous” reassurances.) Pontiac’s forest wealth can attract all sorts of destructive schemes!

As innovative as Ms Toller’s idea is, energy-from-waste brings a lot of serious questions needing answers before any approvals are given.

We must insist on this. Please.