In spite of public opposition, city councillors intend to see the completion of a report on the potential of a new landfill and waste-to-energy operation at the former Elk Falls paper mill.
“I didn’t say it was going to happen…I want see what’s best for Campbell River,” said Coun. Ziggy Stewart, who was clearly agitated by the opponents.
Typically, few people attend the regular meetings of the Solid Waste Management Committee. But last Thursday afternoon at the Maritime Heritage Centre, approximately 70 people came out to oppose Catalyst Paper’s Elk Falls mill as a potential site.
“There are streams on the Catalyst land, on the west side of the highway, and this land slopes down to the ocean and this will affect all aquatic life,” said Corrine Matheson, who led the public delegation. “Odour, pollutants, dust, smoke, noise and vibration will be noticed by all nearby residents.”
Matheson, along with many of the opponents, lives near the mill’s ash dump which is being evaluated as a potential new regional landfill. The current landfill site on Argonaut Road is nearing capacity and is slated to close next year, along with smaller dump sites in the West Coast communities of Tahsis and Zeballos.
That leaves the regional district committee (which encompasses both the Strathcona and Comox regional districts) with little time to evaluate and build an expensive new waste treatment and landfill facility.
“There are other options besides Elk Falls,” noted Comox Mayor Paul Ives.
Those options include expanding Campbell River’s dump or the Pigeon Lake facility near Cumberland. At this stage, the latter site seems the most practical since the regional district already owns the land and it’s permitted for a landfill.
But the problem is, Cumberland doesn’t want it either.
“Some of the concerns you’re raising have been raised by residents of Cumberland for years,” director Leslie Baird of Cumberland told the Elk Falls opponents.
The committee also debated the practicality of building a waste-to-energy facility. Some directors think it’s an option, but others believe it’s too expensive and requires far more waste than is generated by both regional districts.
Gold River Mayor Craig Anderson pointed out it took more than 10 years to convert his community’s former pulp mill into a waste-to-energy facility. These facilities are expensive to build and Gold River receives barge loads of garbage from Vancouver to fuel the process.
As well, the waste-to-energy plant is on the waterfront, approximately 13 kilometres away from the Village of Gold River and any residential neighbourhoods. After hearing the arguments, long-time Area D director Brenda Leigh called for a motion to drop Elk Falls as a potential site.
“I feel I don’t need more information. I know waste-to-energy isn’t viable here. I’ve heard this in several workshops,” she said.
But her motion was defeated, led by all of Campbell River’s representatives on the board: councillors Stewart, Claire Moglove, Roy Grant and Mayor Charlie Cornfield (Coun. Ryan Mennie had to leave the meeting before the vote).
“I can’t support the motion,” said Mayor Cornfield. “We’re doing our due diligence and all we’re doing is asking for information.”
Director Noba Anderson of Cortes Island commended the opponents for coming forward and raising concerns.
“Frankly, I think you’re ahead of this board,” she said.
But Director Stewart didn’t see it that way and criticized some of the questions raised by Matheson. He also stated he doesn’t want to see a traditional landfill at the mill site.
“A lot of this stuff isn’t factual,” Stewart said of Matheson’s concerns, as he continued to defend the engineering report which is almost complete and is expected by the end of April. “This is just research. That’s all this is.
“I just find it frustrating. I don’t want to make a bad decision for the residents of Campbell River. I don’t want to be pushed around…sorry, I won’t be pushed around.”