The City of White Rock has made it clear to residents that it has no official jurisdiction over a contentious proposal to establish a bio-fuel plant on Semiahmoo First Nation land, bordering South Surrey.
But council is being asked by Metro Vancouver to weigh in with an opinion nonetheless, just as residents are being asked to comment individually, as part of the approval process.
At its Oct. 16 meeting council endorsed recommendations of a report from city engineer and operations manager Jim Gordon, in which he suggested the city ask for more information and expertise from Metro Vancouver before chiming in with an opinion.
The plan, proposed by Andion Global in partnership with Semiahmoo First Nation, would divert organic food waste from landfills and incinerators, converting it into renewable natural gas (RNG) and non-chemical fertilizer.
Opponents are voicing concerns, however, about air and water pollution that might directly impact the Semiahmoo Peninsula and its residents, as well the potential spread of particulates from released gases over a far-broader area, including Langley and south of the U.S.-Canada border.
Opponents say that gases likely to be released have been linked to cardiovascular and respiratory illnesses, as well as neurological and other issues.
Metro Vancouver has been delegated authority from the province over air quality matters in the region, and the project, also under federal government purview, would need an air quality permit from Metro to proceed.
“City staff did a broad overview of the industry and found numerous bio-gas facilities throughout Canada,” Gordon told council, after noting that the plant would be the first Canadian facility for Andion, which has operated numerous biofuel plants in Europe without apparent problems.
“Most of the (Canadian) plants seem to be operating without air quality issues, but many had issues at start-up, and there can always be ongoing issues relating to operational procedures.”
Emphasizing that city staff are not “experts in air quality,” Gordon recommended that council ask Metro to provide “expert information on the proposal, so that council can make informed comment back to Metro.”
Of particular interest, he said, would be the “potential for odours being carried by the prevailing winds to White Rock; gases that are injurious to human health being carried to White Rock, or issues related to waste water discharge, also affecting White Rock.”
“Further,” he said, “we ask what regulatory tools Metro has, if there are issues due to design deficiencies, staff negligence, or otherwise improper operations of the plant.”
Although the deadline for public submissions has been extended beyond the date of Oct. 16, Gordon and chief administrative officer Guillermo Ferrero were not able, following questions from Couns. Christopher Trevelyan and David Chesney, to confirm a new deadline, or a timeline for city input.
Similar feedback has been sought from the City of Surrey, Gordon said.
The proponents have said they hope to get started on construction of the plant by early next year.
In addition to creating jobs and revenue for the First Nation, they said, estimates are that the facility will annually divert some 70,000 tons of organic food waste, eliminate around 55,000 tons of greenhouse gas emissions.
It would generate 3.5 million gigajoules of RNG annually they claim, as well as providing an organic substitute for some 22,000 tons of chemical fertilizers used each year.
SFN’s application to Metro Vancouver for an air quality permit details approximately 40 tonnes of annual anticipated emissions, including methane (35.8 tonnes per year), hydrogen sulphide (0.108 tonnes) and volatile organic compounds (0.78 tonnes).
Opponents plan to rally “in peaceful opposition” to the plant at Peace Arch Park on Oct. 29.
More details of what is being described as a “family-friendly” rally are posted by the Clean Air Alliance at www.nobiofuel.ca
– with files from Tracy Holmes