Feature Story Tuesday, January 21, 2014
Reduce, Reuse, Reject
Opposition to proposed hazardous waste plant surges with powerhouse coalition
Mark Angelo speaks to a full house of some of the most influential activists and river stewards in the province last Saturday in Chilliwack. Below, Ernie Crey, from the Sto:lo Tribal Council and others listen to Rod Clapton speak about how the facility "transcends Chilliwack boundaries."
group of about 50-60 people showed up at Evergreen Hall last Saturday to discuss a proposal to build the most toxic hazardous waste facility in the province just 200 meters from the Fraser River.
The meeting was hosted by former Chilliwack-Hope MLA Gwen O’Mahony and Glen Thompson from Friends of the Chilliwack River Valley, who brought in the cream of the activist crop from around the Lower Mainland, including BC Rivers Day founder Mark Angelo and Rod Clapton from the B.C. Federation of Drift Fishers.
This forum was all about preaching to the choir, but the real genius behind it is that now all the disciples are singing from the same song sheet and armed with the most current information.
The activists agreed there is a need for a facility to handle and recycle hazardous waste. But, due to leeching and seepage concerns, inherent flooding and other risk factors, opponents don’t want it at that location, despite the City’s reassurances the operation, if under threat from flooding, would be moved to higher ground at the drop of a hat.
It appears City Hall’s tail is wagging the dog when they willfully admit there is a flood risk, but blindly forge ahead oblivious to the danger.
One of the most important questions came from Wendy Bales, FVRD Area C Director, who asked what would happen in the event of an inevitable earthquake?
Thompson explained that in an earthquake situation, the site would be prone to liquefaction which makes soils lose consistency causing it to act like water.
The main concern here is if the dikes are breeched, then how would crews dismantle the operation and move it to higher ground when it’s sitting under 6 feet of water?
Some say the company’s real motive behind the riverside site is use it to haul waste in on barges, which adds an entire new dimension to discussions around the project that hasn't been touched on yet.
But before dispelling barges, it’s important to note that in the event of an earthquake, materials would stand half a chance of being recovered if they're stored on barges rather than on land and they can be retrieved by marine vessels if detached from moorings.
Grand Chief Clarence Pennier of the Sto:lo Tribal Council and Larry Commodore from Soowahlie chat during the forum. Below, Rod Clapton from the B.C. Federation of Drift Fishers.
Handling the waste by barge may in fact be the safer transportation alternative by taking toxin-loaded semis off the road lessening the chances of calamitous accidents involving PCBs, mercury and other infectious waste spillage in the community.
Case in point: Clapton talked about an overturned semi in the Vedder Canal a few years ago.
There was grumbling about a lack of public consultation. It’s true. There was no dog and pony show on this one. Many feel Chilliwack City Council rushed the rezoning application through with Olympic speed just to allow them to rubber-stamp it at a later date.
According to Thompson, City staff recommended that there be no public consultation at all.
City Hall operates on the motto of “the highest and best use of the land”, but opponents argue this proposal is far from being the best use of the land.
According to some, Mayor Sharon Gaetz has been terse and ambiguous in her responses which only serves to bolster the dichotomy between the two warring factions. Apparently, she tossed a red herring across the City’s tracks by using Cheam Landfill as an example of another dump alongside the river.
Do two wrongs make a right?
Thompson admonished the City for what he says was the grand deception regarding their choice for an M6 special industrial zoning. M6’s are also where marijuana grow operations could be located.
“The mayor is putting out untruths, saying the City is opting for that, like they're partners, like she chose this. She had to do it. In fact, the City cannot decide to put someone through a zoning process. That would be illegal as well. If it was allowed under an M-4, they couldn't do that,” he said. “The City has no say in that. You can't tell someone that has the legal right to build a house that is zoned for that, that they can't build a house, and that you're going to put the bar higher. That's not legal. This is there because it's the only way to make it legal. It's not there to make environmentally correct decisions or raise the bar.”
FVRD Area C director Wendy Bales asks what happens to the site in the event of an earthquake. Below, Gwen O'Mahony is handed a photocopy of a recent item on barge use in the Fraser River.
Holding up a curly, mercury-laden bulb like it was a bomb ready to drop, Thompson said they are not a 21st century solution and questioned why they are even being made, adding that the government's own recommendation is to evacuate the room if one is broken. According to Thompson, the site is projected to be handling around 100,000 of the bulbs monthly.
Continuing the barrage, Thompson said the term “recycle” is a misnomer because the mercury won’t be stabilized and recycled here in Chilliwack. Plans are to ship the substance to Quebec where it’s put through a filtration process. Ditto, for PCBs and infectious waste that will also be re-packaged and shipped to Alberta for incineration.
"Why would you want to put a plant in a location like this?" he asked. “It doesn't make any sense at all if you have this convoy of toxic waste crossing over the mountains.”
According to Clapton, the recreational fishing community is extremely concerned, and that they have 17 various environmental groups, including Ernie Crey from the Stó:lō Tribal Council, backing the coalition formed to oppose the plant. They want a complete environmental review.
Clapton says anxiety over the facility transcends Chilliwack boundaries, calling it not only a Canadawide matter, but one of international concern adding that the proposal puts the recreational fishing industry in jeopardy.
Clapton said he confirmed with the Ministry of Environment that all hazardous waste facilities in BC have leeching emissions issues.
“Regardless of safeguards put forward, there will be accidents with chemicals and human error,” he said.
Clapton called substances the site will be handling monthly a "Devil's Brew". Amongst those materials he said will be approximately 350,000 litres of PCB-laced transformer oils and 250,000 tons of transformers and electrical equipment per month going through the site. Those numbers are likely to increase over time.
He itemized the list;
“It's fair to say, that no amount of economic benefit can justify putting this facility in the flood plain of the world's No. 1 salmon river,” he said. “We support economic development, but the proviso for this development is that it has to be environmental-meet-responsible, but this is beyond irresponsibility.”
Stó:lō elder and wild salmon activist Eddie Gardner (2nd from left) and Anne McIntyre listen intently to speakers at the forum. Below, emcee Gwen O'Mahony introduces speakers.
Clapton implored them to engage politicians at all levels of government and demand accountability on the project.
When Mark Angelo took the floor he digressed about his good old days on the Fraser River and people listened to his romantic reflections and life adventures, but the gist of what he was saying was that he wants a precautionary approach and science-based decisions made.
But the merit of that statement is questionable and problematic because of reports about environmental assessments suddenly going missing and scientists being muzzled.
He said he just got back from Bangladesh where he was involved in the shooting of a documentary called River Blue investigating the state of rivers there and described a nightmarish scenario of toxic chemicals pouring from pipes straight into the water.
"That is occurring at a huge environmental cost and a huge health cost," he said and went on to describe the current situation at the Fraser River site.
“There's already an apparatus to move water to an existing wildlife management area, there's a creek nearby and if you look at the geography in the sediments of the site, there is certainly the potential for the site to leech chemicals directly into the river through spillage and leaks.”
Angelo agreed with Clapton's comment about these types of treatment plants that are prone to spillage.
“When you add it all up, this site is too close to the river, and that closeness provides no grace period whatsoever.”
Prior to the meeting start, one man told the Voice the river has so many problems upstream already that he wouldn’t even eat fish taken from the Hope-Mission stretch.
It's not something you'd want to see on a postcard. Activists say that as stewards of the world's greatest salmon fishery, BC should be setting every precedent possible in terms of resource management and preservation from one end of the river to the other.
More to come as this story unfolds.
See photos below.
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