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Port Hope council meeting hijacked by REM issue

Cecilia Nasmith

By Cecilia Nasmith, Northumberland Today


An item that was not even on the agenda at this week's Port Hope council meeting dominated the evening.

With Deputy Mayor Jeff Gilmer freshly returned from a trip to Poland to inspect a waste-gasification plant similar to the one Renewable Energy Management Inc. wants to build at Wesleyville, opponents of the project demanded answers.

At each question period for all the various portfolios during the committee of the whole meeting, audience members lined up to have their say.

Heather Sculthorpe demanded to know who paid for two fact sheets that have gone out to all residents. Hearing that REM bore the expense, she asked who authorized their issue under the municipal logo.

Louise Ferrie-Blecher of Port Hope Residents 4 Managing Waste Responsibly said the fact sheet seems to endorse the proposal of a private business.

"I don't believe I have ever seen any other business that made a proposal to the town being promoted on municipal letterhead," Ferrie-Blecher said.

"Many people start up businesses in this community, or want to, but they never had them presented to the whole municipality under the municipal letterhead," Sarah Sculthorpe agreed.

Issuing fact sheets has been done before in cases where a project involves a peer-review process, Mayor Linda Thompson said.

"It doesn't endorse the application. It identifies that an application will be made," chief administrative officer Carl Cannon said.

"It's information relative to the numerous questions we are getting."

Sarah Sculthorpe noted that two fact sheets have been issued, and that there are some discrepancies between them.

She also asked about the trip to Poland that REM sponsored for the deputy mayor, a staff member and a member of the peer review team. How exactly did that come about, she asked.

"I did request we see a site. They offered to pay for it, and we took them up on it. We identified a member of council, staff and the peer-review team," Mayor Linda Thompson replied.

Sculthorpe pointed out that it wasn't totally cost-free to the municipality, since the councillor's and staffer's salaries continued to be paid when they were not present.

Gilmer said he is preparing a full presentation on the trip to Poland within a couple of weeks, but he did make one comment.

"We left Saturday night at 6 p.m. I arrived home Wednesday at 5 p.m. That makes 95 hours, of which 30 were spent in the air or at the airport and 20 in vehicles. It wasn't a luxury trip, I can assure you," he said.

"It would appear that the best time for a delegation to go and visit a facility is after the application has been filed, after the business has had an opportunity to raise all the issues so, when the team goes, all the questions have been asked by the citizens both for and against the project," John Morand commented.

"It seems to me, going early has taken away the team's opportunity to ask questions that perhaps haven't even been thought of yet."

Morand urged council to read literature that exists on the impact of property values within five to seven miles of similar facilities.

Questions on business plans, who pays for road maintenance once garbage trucks roll in more frequently, and a host of other aspects followed, one after another.

Questioners were told time and again that REM has presented no application as yet, so not many answers are possible at this time.

Eventually, Cannon reminded audience members that they are welcome to present their questions directly to REM.

"Anyone can make an application for anything," he told the audience.

"Ultimately, it goes through an approval process. The municipality may or may not support it.

"The municipality is not in a position at this time to fully understand the application, because we don't have the application. We can't stop anyone from making an application.

"We can't dictate when they choose to apply but we are obligated, when we receive an application, to deal with it."

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