Energy from Waste debate heats up


Crystal Dubeau & Lynne Lavery

Local Journalism Initiative

MRC PONTIAC –  The Otter Lake municipal council, July 11, voted a unanimous “NO” to the Energy from Waste project, proposed by Warden Jane Toller and approved by the MRC Council of Mayors.  Councillor Jennifer Quaile stated:  “”I strongly oppose this motion. Over the last year, I have been Otter Lake’s representative on the MRC Pontiac’s Waste Management Committee and [in my opinion] garbage incineration plants are a bad idea. They are polluting, expensive, and inefficient. Their toxic emissions have proven to be extremely dangerous …including nitrous oxides, dioxins, and mercury that can cause cancer, reproductive damage and birth defects. The bottom ash left after the burn is also extremely toxic and to date, there is no safe way to entirely dispose of it.”

Councillor Robin Zacharias also commented: “The Durham-York Coventa plant, which the Pontiac mayors and director-general toured last November, has had a number of events when dioxin limits were exceeded, including one  at nearly 14 times the allowable limit.  There is a large gap between what the Warden says will go to landfill (3% of garbage processed) versus Durham-York’s experience (about 30% of garbage processed). This difference equals about 100,000 tonnes per year which is 24 times the amount Pontiac sends today.”

On-line forum raises more questions

Shawville Mayor, Bill McCleary launched an on-line forum, addressed to “MRC residents” on July 22, stating, “My council and myself have been taking a lot of heat for supporting an Energy from Waste project……we as a Municipality believe in the project, but, [there will be] no final decision until we hear all sides…….”

The forum has seen a variety of views from positive to negative to those requesting more information; common concerns also include the impact on Pontiac’s tourism businesses, the natural environment and citizens’ health.

Some answers provided

Warden Toller responded to Otter Lake council’s concerns. “There is a lot of propaganda and fear-mongering based on old style incineration. In 2016 there was at least one time during [Durham–York’s] start-up there was a slight increased amount released which is typical, but it was quickly adjusted and regulated. I am researching to see if there are any other incidents. The A7 guidelines of Ontario (Air Pollution Control, Design and Operation Guidelines for Municipal Waste Thermal for publicly or privately-owned incinerator systems designed to burn municipal waste) are very tightly monitored. The monitoring is done by a third party. At any time the public can see the readings. If there was any chance of environmental harm they would have been shut down. There is an active citizens group who also are watchdogs that are in communication all the time.”  She did not respond to questions about the increased “residual waste” left after incineration.

The forum raised other questions, including that Quebec does not allow garbage to be brought into the province.  Toller said she understood that “if municipal waste from Ontario is headed to landfill in Quebec it is not permitted because we do not have the capacity, but if waste is transformed to create energy, such as EFW, it is permitted.”  She added that on Friday, July 14, she, as well as MRC DG Kim Lesage, Environment Coordinator, Kari Richardson and Jason Durand, Director of Land Use Planning, held a video-conference with an “advisor to the QC cabinet,” showing them the Town Hall presentation. “They informed us because municipal waste was being transformed into energy and producing electricity it could be brought to the incinerator from Ontario. They also said there are funds available from the Ministère de l’Environ-nement, de la Lutte contre les changements climatiques (MELCCC) and they agree our project fights climate change as well as producing needed electricity and steam.”

Toller concluded:  “Starting in 2010, before I was Warden, an unanimous vote was taken to host an EFW facility. We have been discussing this project since 2017. After the business plan is completed we will have the necessary information to see costs, tonnages, distances, revenues etc. and during the environmental assessment we will hear from the public.”

The beginning of a long process

Mayor McCleary added, “Shawville council supported the motion months ago.  What opponents don’t seem to understand is it is just the start of the process; there are many steps involved.”  Robin Zacharias from Otter Lake council, stated, “I support looking for solutions to waste management. However, this resolution is premature, and a lot more work is required before an informed decision about an Energy from Waste facility in Pontiac, can be made.”