Conclusion of EFW town halls

A resident presents a report on incineration from the Australian public health authority at the town hall meeting in Otter Lake, April 10.

“Don’t spoil our little piece of heaven on earth”

Bonnie James & Dale K. Shutt
Local Journalism Initiative

MRC PONTIAC – The final two Town Hall meetings presenting the Energy from Waste (EFW) project’s initial business plan were held in Campbell’s Bay on April 9 and Otter Lake on April 10, concluding a five-meeting series.

It was standing room only with 130 people in attendance, along with Warden Jane Toller, and Mayors Corey Spence (L’Isle-aux-Allumettes), Jean-Louis Corriveau (Calumet), Alain Gagnon (Bryson), Lynn Cameron (Portage), Raymond Pilon (Campbell’s Bay) and councillors.

Toller opened stating there are only two options for dealing with municipal waste: landfill or an EFW incinerator. Later, she mentioned the MRC’s intention to initiate better composting and recycling programs to reduce solid waste by up to 50%. Many attendees noted a real circular economy – reducing, reusing, repairing, remanufacturing, upcycling, and recycling – could eliminate the need for expensive solutions like an EFW.

Questions and more questions
Toxic emissions seemed to be top of the question list. A Waltham farmer is concerned the public will be reticent to purchase his grass-fed beef because of perceptions about EFW toxic emissions.

An engineer and former environmental compliance coordinator at Plasco (a plastics production company) said information shared with the community insufficiently represents the risks of incineration. She noted the unreliability of the scrubbers used to clean emissions, an opinion supported by a former oil worker.

Another person referred to a report that millions of people in France have been warned by the French health authority not to eat eggs from backyard chickens due to “forever” chemical pollution, namely dioxins and furans, coming from the Paris EFW incinerator. Toller said they’ll only build a safe EFW, noting Paris’ is almost 30 years old and currently under refurbishment, which is needed every 30 years.

Where’s the money coming from?
Many questions were asked about funding, with Toller assuring taxes wouldn’t be raised to pay for it.

Jennifer Quaile, an Otter Lake councillor, questioned Toller’s claim that grants are available from the Canadian Infrastructure Bank and Canada Growth Fund saying these are investment possibilities, not grants. She also questioned the MRC’s claim of possible grants through the Quebec Climate Change Fund; will they support a project that first produces carbon before needing to eliminate it?

Josey Bouchard, a Campbell’s Bay councillor and Pontiac Voice member, questioned the claim that the millions of tons of ash produced would be sold to produce road pavement and construction materials when an incinerator in Quebec City currently cannot find enough buyers for its ash.

When asked what would make council abandon the project, Toller replied it would happen if a MRC Council of Mayors vote showed a majority against it.

Better information needed
Suggestions were made to make the project more transparent: a signed legal document stating no council member or relation would benefit from it; having someone with more technical knowledge present at future meetings; and a referendum at the next election.

Toller agreed with the first suggestion but said the experts they’ve consulted live outside Canada. She claimed a referendum wouldn’t provide a valid representation of public opinion due to low voter turnout, which elicited a very negative reaction from the crowd.

At the final meeting in Otter Lake, close to 80 people attended along with Mayors Corey Spence and Terry Lafleur (Otter Lake).

Toller reviewed a local newspaper article from July 2008: “Incinerator could be operational by fall 2009.” It was to be located on the Seventh Line in Shawville. At the time, the MRC was producing 20,000 tons of garbage annually. After introducing recycling, it’s now down to 5,000 tons. The facility was aiming to process between 40 – 100 tons of trash per day, which would’ve served the needs of the MRC and Municipality of Pontiac, a partner. Toller aimed to highlight that incineration has been considered by the MRC for years.

However, when the Journal contacted former Shawville Mayor Albert Armstrong to ask why the 2008 project didn’t happen, he said the provincial government rejected it due to environmental issues.

After Toller spoke, Mayor Lafleur announced Otter Lake is working on its own waste management plan and a town hall meeting will be held to lay it out and consult residents. The audience applauded.

Toller claimed building the EFW facility would justify the provincial government putting more money into local roads.

A resident asked who will pay for the shortfall if there isn’t enough garbage to meet the incinerator’s contracted quota. Spence speculated tipping fees would be raised to accommodate, further encouraging municipalities to reduce their waste.

Next, someone asked which environmental body will monitor the facility. Spence claimed there will be third party oversight and Toller said the incinerator’s readings would be constantly available to the public via a large screen outside the facility and on an app. The Ministry of Environment would monitor the facility’s data and shut it down if there were any problems.

Jen Montague of Thorne said all the job postings on the Covanta website (a company that operates incinerators) are for power engineers and systems operators; jobs unavailable to those struggling with unemployment and underemployment in the Pontiac. Toller responded that blue collar and trades jobs will also be required.

The overarching message heard in Otter Lake was the Pontiac isn’t the right location for an incinerator. Residents argued it should be located centrally in the city near the bulk of the waste; it makes more sense to ship the Pontiac’s small amount of waste there than vice versa.

Anti-EFW activist Linda Davis asked Spence and Toller if they were prepared to abandon the project now that they’ve heard from the public. Toller started to respond but was cut off by someone shouting: “The message is NO!”, which started a chant of “NO! NO! NO!”.

After the meeting, the Journal asked Toller what the MRC’s next move is. She said they will start sourcing funding for the next business plan and continue to provide information to the public.