No final verdict from Nanaimo council on incinerator plan

NANAIMO – City council hasn't yet taken a stance on the Duke Point waste-to-energy incinerator, but the mayor says it might happen soon.

Reserving judgement on a potential Duke Point garbage incinerator is a “very good move” by city politicians, says the interim CEO for the Greater Nanaimo Chamber of Commerce.

Nanaimo city council opted against taking an immediate stance on a proposed Duke Point waste-to-energy incinerator during an open meeting Monday, despite options to oppose the project.

City officials called for a report last July outlining ways they could eliminate the potential for a new $500-million garbage incinerator at Duke Point and the possible effects of that decision.

This week city staff members proposed options ranging from the municipality prohibiting the project through rezoning to declaring its opposition to Metro Vancouver. Council opted to receive the information.

According to mayor John Ruttan, the majority of council is reserving judgement until Duke Point is announced as an official candidate for an incinerator – a declaration Metro Vancouver is expected to make this month.

Until then, he says council will collect information and talk to people on all sides of the incinerator issue.

It is a process applauded by the Nanaimo Chamber of Commerce, which urged council on Monday to give more consideration to the project before rezoning the land or opposing community investment. To shut the door on an industrial project without further discussion would have sent the wrong message to other potential investors, said the chamber’s interim CEO Kim Smythe.

“The message they would have been sending [other potential investors] is we don’t know what the playing field is and we are willing to change or move the goal post at any time depending on who the loudest voice in the room is,” Smythe said.

“Investors, developers – whatever –  would start to take that as a blanket statement.”

According to Smythe, the best action would be to evaluate proposals based on what’s good for the community and weigh whether environmental or health issues are surmountable.

“Then we have the opportunity to say to other investors, we looked at that deal closely … and it didn’t meet the environmental criteria and health standards Nanaimo demands,” he said.

The city’s mayor believes council will continue to investigate and listen to both sides of the incinerator issue before a decision is made. He said he still has mixed feelings about the project, with questions about potential health implications and would like to get more information.

But a decision might also not be far off.

On Nov. 15, nine companies will have the chance to put forward options to Metro Vancouver for in and out-of-region sites they have secured. On Nov. 21 Metro Vancouver officials will make the list public.

It is anticipated that Seaspan, Wheelabrator Technologies and Urbaser will put forward Duke Point for a $500-million facility.

If the city is announced as a potential site, the mayor said it could be time to arrive at a decision. While the community likely has two or three months to take a stance on an incinerator, “I suggest the public will want a commitment from council much sooner than that,” Ruttan said.

“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.”

As part of Metro Vancouver’s multi-staged selection process, project proponents will be crafting design plans based on sites presented this November. Paul Henderson, Metro Vancouver’s general manager of solid waste services, said there will be public consultation and “community support will be a really critical element” in moving projects forward.