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TOP NEWS STORIES: Proposed incinerator fires up debate on facility’s location

Whether they were for or against a garbage incinerator in Nanaimo, people were fired up in 2013 about the issue.

The idea of a waste-to-energy facility at Duke Point is a controversial one, garnering plenty of public attention and discussion. Metro Vancouver is looking for a place to burn 370,000 tons of garbage each year, and put out a request for qualification in autumn of 2012.

Nanaimo wasn’t officially long-listed as a potential incinerator site until six weeks ago, but by this past spring there were already rumours that caught the attention of environmentalists.

“I think the model of barging over waste from Metro Vancouver to Nanaimo is deeply, deeply flawed and not well thought out,” said Christianne Wilhelmson, executive director of the Georgia Strait Alliance, in June.

Project partners Wheelabrator Technologies and Urbaser met with local governments in August and the Regional District of Nanaimo, at that point, heard enough to make up its mind.

“I know how valuable our quality of life is here and our air and water and all the other resources,” said Joe Stanhope, RDN chairman. “It’s one of the biggest attractions and why people come here and I’m not going to jeopardize that for a few extra jobs.”

Nanaimo city council, however, kept silent on the matter, not about to speak hastily. A waste-to-energy plant would be a $500-million project and create around 70 jobs and industrial property-tax revenue.

The issue reached its 2013 zenith at the beginning of last month, when Nanaimo Coun. George Anderson tabled a motion to express opposition to the project. Council voted down the motion in a 6-3 vote, deciding it would remain neutral and let the public consultation process in Vancouver play out.

“[There is] more time available and [council] wants to take a very close second look at the project,” said Mayor John Ruttan.

Ultimately, civic leaders may not even get the final say – the Jackson Road property already has the proper zoning for a waste-to-energy plant. Conversely, Metro Vancouver might end up choosing another site – proponents in Port Mellon, Delta and Vancouver are also on the long-list, and other proposals will be identified in 2014.

In the meantime, the partners in the Nanaimo bid will go on a public relations blitz to promote the positives of the project.

“It makes for robust discussion and debate, for sure,” said Mark Swartz of Wheelabrator. “And we are very confident, knowing what we know, and we are proud of what the implications are of projects like these in the health arena and environmental arena and economic benefits arena.”

An incinerator in Nanaimo might be safe and sound. It might be smelly and smoky. It might get built and it might not. For the next little while at least, this incinerator story will continue, at a slow burn.

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