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Group forms to oppose REM proposal

Cecilia Nasmith

By Cecilia Nasmith, Northumberland Today


Port Hope Council at this week's Committee of the Whole meeting received a fact sheet on the Renewable Energy Management proposal to build and operate a low-temperature gasification plant at Wesleyville to convert waste into clean energy.

According to Louise Ferrie-Blecher of Port Hope Residents 4 Managing Waste Responsibly, the information is only what the Pickering-based corporation wants Council to know. Her group, formed in response to the prospective project, wants the public to know there is another side to that particular story.

The project is one council presentation and two open houses down the road, and the environmental assessment (EA) the Ministry of the Environment requires is under way.

Ferrie-Blecher was interviewed Thursday before a public information meeting her group organized with the aim of urging citizens to ask Council to delay all rezoning and other decisions at least until that the EA is complete (likely in April).

To come to the municipality with a proposal before the EA is completed, to her, is like trying to sell a pig in a poke.

Meanwhile, the group is working on its other goal: to inform the public.

"All the information we have received so far has come from REM. We wanted to get people to understand there are a lot of concerns," Ferrie-Blecher said.

"This is untested, unproved technology,” she said. “How is this going to affect our community? Port Hope is trying to rebrand itself and get past the toxic waste stigma. Now we are going to become the garbage dump of Ontario, with trucks bringing hundreds of thousands of tons of garbage into Port Hope. How does this match the vision of the rural paradise our town wants to portray?

"We just want to be sure they understand: if we going to make an informed decision, we need to have the facts."

According to the fact sheet given to councillors, the technology was developed by Australian-based ENTECH Renewable Energy Solution, which boasts 150 installations world-wide that cumulatively have operated for 16 million hours and processed seven million tons of waste.

The gasification process is not incineration, the document stated. It bakes waste at a low temperature for 16 to 24 hours. The gas produced can be converted to steam, which can be channeled through a turbine system to produce about 15 megawatts of electricity every 24 hours.

The waste product is a dense white ash that is clean, inert, non-toxic and can even be used in such secondary markets as construction.

That information comes from one source, Ferrie-Blecher said: REM.

The document says the Port Hope facility would process 200,000 tonnes of waste per year, but she said the company's figures have been inconsistent. There has been talk of up to 600,000 tonnes a year to be processed. In all of Northumberland, 34,000 tonnes a year are produced. In Port Hope, there are more than 5,200 tons produced.

"It's obviously about taxes and jobs, not about dealing with the waste in Port Hope," Ferrie-Blecher concluded.

"Council thinks it will be great for taxes and people having jobs but, from what we are hearing from industry people, the job numbers are not going to be there. Are we selling our town out for the sake of a couple of jobs? Is this the best way to bring people into our town?"

No ENTECH plant has been built in North America, Ferrie-Blecher stated. And REM has never even built one such plant.

"The ENTECH technology has been used in other countries, but not North America. We don't know what the environmental standards of those countries are."

REM is financing a visit to a plant in Poland later this month for Deputy Mayor Jeff Gilmer, director of economic development and tourism Judy Selvig and a member of the municipality's peer review team. Though it would be hard for the municipality to afford it, she said, the only ethical way such a trip could be made is at Port Hope's expense. Otherwise, she wondered, what filtered information will be presented and what sense of obligation will the people on the trip feel.

"How are we going to be certain they are seeing anything other than what REM wants them to see? Will they have an opportunity to speak to the ministry of the environment and see if they have concerns over soil and ambient-air testing comparisons to North America? Will they be meeting with citizens' groups to discuss the impact? I don't think REM is going to show them that."

REM won't talk about emissions, saying it depends on the kind of waste they're processing. This is important to clarify in advance, she insisted.

"Is it commercial waste, municipal waste, medical waste? The plant in Poland only processes medical waste.

"When you burn something, it doesn't disappear. It becomes dioxins and mercury that get into the air and into the ash that is floating over your neighbourhoods.

"They talk about environmentally acceptable standards, but those are set by politicians, not necessarily what the medical professionals say.

"Seventy-five doctors protested against building an incinerator in Durham," she pointed out.

It was built anyway, she added – so it there the potential of an unseemly competition for garbage if the Wesleyville project is a go?

Brant County entertained a similar proposal from REM, which was defeated.

"The mayor actually said, 'No, we don't want to be the guinea pig for this. Go away until you can figure it out somewhere else.'"

She quotes REM literature that acknowledges "a steep hill to climb."

REM insists that gasification is not incineration. The Canadian Council of Ministers of the Environment differs, including gasification plants under the definition of waste incinerator.

"Our impetus was to provide an opportunity to educate the public about the concerns with incineration," she said, citing the potential for particulates floating over Port Hope and spreading into Cobourg and Eastern Northumberland.

"We are going to have to deal with the issue of long-term effects which are not conducive to what we want for our community.

"We don't want to flavour this with fear-mongering but, at the end of the day, do our children 20 or 30 years from now want to clean this place up the same way we are cleaning up the other waste?"

Ferrie-Blecher is urging citizens who share these concerns to contact council, and anyone wanting more information can e-mail .




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