EFW townhall meetings

A resident asks: “How can this be stopped?” at the March 27 townhall meeting in Fort-Coulonge.

Journal staff
Local Journalism Initiative

MRC PONTIAC – The MRC has held four of five scheduled townhall meetings to present the initial business plan (IBP) for the proposed Energy-from-Waste (EFW) project, on March 25, 27, and April 3 and 9, with one more scheduled April 10, in Otter Lake. The plan had been contracted to Deloitte and their partner Ramboll at a cost of $120,000.

At each presentation, Allumette Island mayor, Corey Spence, presented a slideshow as well as several videos showing pros and cons of the proposed project; Warden Jane Toller was also present and responded to many questions.

On March 25, Mayors Donald Gagnon (Chichester), Doris Ranger (Sheenboro) and Odette Godin (Waltham) as well as several councillors and 125 citizens were in  attendance. On March 27, in Fort-Coulonge, mayors Christine Francoeur (Fort-Coulonge) and Sandra Armstrong (Mansfield) attended as well as approximately 60 citizens. On April 3 in Shawville, Mayor Bill McCleary was joined by Ed Walsh (Clarendon) and Brent Orr (Bristol) with over 120 people in  attendance. Attendance for the April 9  meeting in Campbell’s Bay was not available at press time and will be reported in the April 24 Journal.

Explaining waste management’s pros and cons

The slideshow started by explaining the difference between linear and circular economies.  Linear economies rely on a “take, make and discard” model of consumerism that is not sustainable, whereas a circular economy stresses reducing, recycling and reusing to save money and eliminate waste. There was also a video about a business called Eco-Maine that specializes in the circular model including recycling facilities, public education, a landfill and an EFW facility.

Mayor Spence went through some points recently presented by Dr. Paul Connett, a retired chemistry professor from New York, who has researched waste management issues since 1985.  Dr. Connett stressed an incinerator isn’t financially viable, is bad for the economy (reducing tourism) and agriculture and poses many health risks. Spence’s presentation questioned and countered some of Connett’s conclusions.

Presenting the Initial Business Plan

The second half of the presentation was an overview of the recently released initial business plan (IBP). According to it, and a bilingual handout, the MRC currently spends about $1.7 million annually to truck 5,300 tons of waste to the Lachute landfill. The IBP focussed on a facility that would require 400,000 tons of waste at a cost of up to $750 million, including a carbon capture feature.

A point was raised at the Shawville meeting that Ottawa, one of the proposed sources of garbage required to run the EFW, had recently decided to look into expanding their Trimm Road facility to enlarge their landfill along with an option of creating their own incinerator. Toller’s response was that the MRC was also looking at smaller options for the Pontiac’s facility even though all the facts presented were based on a larger model. According to Toller, project revenue and tipping fees would help pay for the facility.

The IBP recommended Design/Finance/Build/Operate/Maintain (DFBOM) as the ideal funding  structure, which would fund the facility 25% privately through investors and 75% publicly through the provincial and federal governments. At the Shawville meeting, Toller mentioned that Derek McGrimmon, from McGrimmon Cartage, had expressed interest in investing up to $50 million. Other funding sources suggested were from the Canada Growth Fund, Canada Infrastructure Bank, and the provinces of Quebec and Ontario; the only cost to local municipalities would be the usual user disposal fees.

There were challenges during the presentation due to poor screen resolution making the details hard to read and switching back and forth from slideshows to videos. Technical details were complex and confusing; several people asked for a hard copy of the IBP, with Toller stating one would be “available soon” or by “April 10”.

Most in attendance opposed

Many citizens and groups oppose the incinerator, believing it carries risks such as unnecessary debt, increased taxes, negative tourism impacts, and adverse effects on the environment and residents’ health. A man at the Shawville meeting asked for a show of hands of those “who don’t want this here”; the response was almost unanimous. Spence interjected asking, “How many are undecided?” with about a dozen people raising their hands.

Another point raised was the amount of garbage required to run the facility could create a spiral of more garbage instead of the desired reduction, noting the EFW project doesn’t tackle the garbage problem in the right order. Residents expressed a desire to see composting and recycling programs expanded throughout the Pontiac to reduce waste prior to making any decisions about residual waste. Toller replied that they are working on a plan and there will be more news soon.

Environmental and health concerns remain

The overall consensus of residents seemed to be that the initial business plan and Spence’s presentation missed the mark by failing to address potential environmental and health impacts of the project. The environmental assessment will not come until after the next step in the process, which is a more detailed business plan, at a cost of $250,000; Toller said those funds would not come from the MRC—they would have to come from the province and “potential interested parties”. Only then would the environmental assessment occur, along with a feasibility study; this would take up to 3 years and another $250 to $300,000.

Ron Hodgins, a farmer from Clarendon, who’s farm is very near the proposed Litchfield site, noted that it seemed a lot of work had gone into the presentation, but given the technical difficulties and many unanswered questions, his response was: “If this is the best the MRC can do to inform the public, then shame on you!” This brought loud applause and also a call from Judith Spence for a public referendum before anything else moves forward.

A student, Hayley Pilon, asked, “What has to happen so this doesn’t go ahead? How can we stop it?” Spence answered that people should stay engaged and talk to their local councils, but also stressed garbage is everyone’s problem. “We have to explore every option to deal with it,” he said. Toller also stated, “We will not move forward unless our proposed solution, whatever that may be, is healthy for everyone and acceptable to the general public.”