No decision from Nanaimo council on incinerator

NANAIMO – City council will wait until Metro Vancouver finishes public consultation before deciding on the waste-to-energy incinerator.

Nanaimo city council says it isn’t ready to demand Metro Vancouver scrap a proposed waste-to-energy incinerator at Duke Point, prompting one area resident to ask: just how long will it take to make a decision?

“This has been going on and on and on,” said Barbara McPherson, a Cedar resident. “They keep saying they need more information, but how much? It’s been six months – that’s more than a semester of college – and it’s wearing on people.”

Nanaimo city council shelved a decision to oppose a $500-million incinerator at Duke Point in front of a gallery of more than 90 people, which turned out to the open meeting Monday to show opposition and support for the plant.

Council has been considering action on a potential incinerator at the industrial park since June, when the board of the Regional District of Nanaimo was made aware of the potential for Metro Vancouver to barge garbage to Vancouver Island. The RDN board – which includes city councillors – voted last summer to oppose the project within its boundaries.

Now, with Nanaimo announced as a possible incinerator site, it’s time for Nanaimo council to make a decision on the issue, according to Coun. George Anderson, who made the motion to oppose the burn facility. He also called for  Nanaimo to be scratched off Metro Vancouver’s list as a possible candidate, pointing out the city shouldn’t host someone else’s garbage.

Councillors Ted Greves and Diane Brennan supported the bid.

Brennan argued a burn facility isn’t compatible with the Harbour City’s push to be a tourism destination and could jeopardize projects, like the proposed passenger ferry. It’s also patently undeniable that there’s citizen opposition to the incinerator, she said, adding she doesn’t think politicians can stand idly by and watch as Nanaimo becomes a repository for the Lower Mainland’s garbage.

But in a 6-3 vote, council opted to postpone a decision until Metro Vancouver wraps up public consultation for the sites next year, calling it premature to shut off discussions. Those who supported the delay said they wanted more questions answered and community discussions.

Councillors Bill McKay and Bill Bestwick suggested the issue go to referendum next year.

“I don’t want to be one of the nine people making a decision. I want 86,000 to make a decision,” McKay said. “I want this to go to referendum next year on election day when … the community has had plenty of time to digest all the information.”

Metro Vancouver, which already has a waste-to-energy facility in Burnaby, is looking for a second site where it can  burn 370,000 tonnes of municipal garbage each year. It has made public four sites picked by proponents for the technology, including Nanaimo. Another six sites are expected to be announced in early 2014.

Mayor John Ruttan initially said he believed council would likely take a stance on the incinerator if Duke Point was formally proposed as a site by Wheelabrator Technologies and Urbaser. While the community would likely have two or three months to make a decision, “I suggest the public will want a commitment from council much sooner than that,” he said in November. “It is prudent to wait 10 days to see if Duke Point is under final determination … at that point we will really get at it and support or reject it.”

Now – after conversations with Metro Vancouver – the mayor says council feels there is “more time now available and wants to take a very close second look at the project.” Ruttan, who voted to delay the motion to oppose the incinerator, said he also wants  the proponents to hold public meetings – and wait to see if any other Nanaimo sites are pitched as candidates for an incinerator.

Anderson is disappointed council wants to wait when it has had months to learn about the project. He is also concerned a delayed motion could mean a “lost opportunity” if council doesn’t vote to take it off the table next year.

“Council members are in a leadership role and are supposed to make a decision on behalf of the community and in this case, I feel some on council deferred it because they don’t want to make a decision on it,” he said.