MRC’s “Energy From Waste” project hits public opposition

Jane Toller responds to questions following her presentation on Energy from Waste.

Fred Ryan

SHAWVILLE – MRC Warden Jane Toller’s launch of a public awareness campaign for one of her key proposals for re-invigorating Pontiac’s economy, Energy from Waste (EFW), had a rocky start, June 19, at the Shawville United Church hall. Toller noted these public meetings (a second in Fort-Coulonge the next evening) were intended to inform the public, stimulate discussion and, Toller hopes, build support.

There were less than twenty people present, although municipal councillors from Ladysmith, Otter Lake, and Shawville, familiar with the EFW project, were present. In the question period after the presentation, several opponents insisted the Warden address mainly their concerns, dismissing any positive features as “corporate propaganda”.

Landfills will be closing The warden reported that Quebec’s waste-management future will be radically different from today’s unlimited collection and trucking of household wastes to the Lachute landfill. Currently the MRC trucks around 5,000 tons to Lachute at a cost of $1.7 million annually.

One alternative to shipping waste further away is incineration, and Toller sees the Pontiac in a leadership role, using the process to create electricity to sell to Hydro-Quebec. The new incineration project would be at the old Smurfit-Stone site in Litchfield, near Portage du Fort, promising to create 50 permanent jobs and800 construction jobs (three years building). Toller insisted Pontiac residents will be favoured in hiring, although the technical nature of the project will demand some specialized training.

Since the project requires 400,000 tonnes of garbage to function and Pontiac only creates 5,000 tonnes, garbage will have to be trucked from around the Outaouais and from Ottawa to reach the required tonnage. That city’s present landfill is reaching capacity and city council there has turned down a local incineration project; Toller claims she has heard from Ottawa officials that they would favour using Pontiac’s services. About 35 large trucks would enter Pontiac per day mostly via the Chenaux Bridge.

Concerns about residues, jobs and costs Toller stated that after incineration, only 3% of the total waste will end up in an on-site landfill; all metals will have been removed, gases captured, and the fly-ash residue could be used in cement-making and to replace sand on local roads.  Questions about the residues bothered several audience members.

Audience objections included that most of jobs will go to “outsiders”, and that Indigenous peoples have not signed on. “That’s necessary,” stated Toller, adding, they have been consulted “from the beginning”.  Costs were another preoccupation, even for the business plan, which was estimated at $200,000. The facility, which will cost an estimated $450M will be a public-private partnership and there is already interest amounting to $180M, Toller stated;  the business plan is essential before any decision-making and most details are yet to be worked out, she added.

Two opponents argued that an aggressive campaign to have residents reduce their waste would be more acceptable, and a former Ottawa official, argued that Ottawa “will never agree” to pay another region to process its waste into electricity. Toller insisted Pontiac’s project has received strong support on Ottawa’s city council. The evening ended with a lot of back and forth between Toller and those opposed to the project.

Fifteen people turned up for the prefect’s meeting at the Knights of Columbus Hall in Fort-Coulonge. This time, those present seemed more interested in the impact on the economy than in the logistical and environmental challenges.