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New Squamish bylaw bans incinerator

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Plans to build a wood waste-to-energy incinerator have been put on the backburner as SNC-Lavalin looks for another location in the SLRD

"Not in my backyard" was the central objection expressed at a public hearing in Squamish on Feb. 19, where the District of Squamish council voted 5-2 in favour of a bylaw that would ban incinerators in industrial I-3 zoned lands.

The one exception in the bylaw is the Woodfibre pulp mill grounds, although a vice-president of SNC-Lavalin, the company that wanted to build the Heuristic EnviroCycler in Squamish, said the company would stay out of Squamish.

However SNC-Lavalin did say that they would be looking at building the incinerator within the Squamish-Lillooet Regional District.

"The sad part is that it would improve air quality in a place like Squamish," says SNC-Lavalin spokesperson and Squamish resident Tom Bruusgaard.

"The air sucked into the system will come out cleaner than it went in."

Bruusgaard believes the company lost a public relations war in Squamish, and that the public was given false information from the beginning about the possible effects and uses of the plant.

"The company is learning as it goes around," he says. "We never expected this level of concern. We expected more acceptance because of its practical potential as a gasifier, and because it only has the impact of 47 woodstoves. Personally I feel the (concern over pollution) is not legitimate."

SNC-Lavalin is currently looking at three or four sights in the SLRD. They want to build it in the southern part of the regional district mainly because of the easy access to millions of tonnes of wood waste, but also because they want to put it in a location where they can easily showcase their technology.

Bruusgaard says the company will work harder to get the facts out when it makes its next application, and hopes that the public and government reception will be more supportive of the project.

"We may lose the opportunity to put this project here because other communities are showing a great deal of interest."

No applications have been filed with the SLRD, although Dave Allen, the Manager of Utilities and Community Services for the SLRD, says that they had discussions over the process with SNC-Lavalin last week.

"We talked to a representative last week, and they are aware they have to make a full application, what our process is, and they understand that it’s a level playing field," says Allen. "It’s not going to happen anytime soon."

The incinerator, an SNC-Lavalin invention, could burn up to 68,000 tonnes of wood waste each year, generating approximately three and a half megawatts of power for B.C. Hydro.

The company has had two incinerators operating in Minnesota for the past two decades, which they say have surpassed all expectations from an emissions standpoint.

The incinerators are capable of burning other kinds of waste, but SNC-Lavalin says it is willing to confine its operations in the SLRD to wood.

To apply to burn wood waste from the area, SNC-Lavalin will have to meet the criteria set out in the SLRD’s Solid Waste Management Plan. The SLRD’s Plan Monitoring Committee would evaluate the proposal’s environmental, technical, economic and social merits and demerits and then make its recommendation to the SLRD board.

The project does not begin or end with the board’s decision, however. "Ultimately, it’s not up to us," says Allen, who is confident that the process will weed out any projects that are not in the best interests of the regional district. A copy of the proposal will go the Ministry of Land, Water and Air Protection for their evaluation, and their decision is final.

The SLRD does have some influence, says Allen, and the current SLRD board has representation from municipalities, "and they know it’s a controversial issue. I believe in the process we’ve put into place, and that the committee will ultimately decide what’s best for the region."

Wood is already being burned and buried in the SLRD region without any emissions or particulate control, and according to SNC-Lavalin the incinerator will actually produce less greenhouse gas than the wood if it were just allowed to rot on its own.

Although it could lower emissions for the regional district, both Squamish and Whistler councils have expressed concerns over the air quality in the immediate vicinity of the incinerator.

At the Squamish hearing SNC-Lavalin Vice President Ted Skodje said the project would cost $14 million to build including about $4.5 million spent locally on materials and labour. The incinerator would provide approximately 20 construction jobs, 20 permanent jobs, plus another handful of support jobs. He also said the project would meet provincial environmental standards, as well as the parameters set out in B.C. Hydro’s "Green Power" program.

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