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WTE approval: 'Their worst nightmare come true,' Les vows

Chilliwack MLA John Les lambasted the B.C. environment minister's decision to approve incineration of garbage by Metro Vancouver, and warned that the people of the Fraser Valley won't stand for it.

"I think the minister's approval is regrettable and wrong," Les said in a telephone interview Tuesday.

But he added that there are many steps yet between the minister's approval and the construction of any waste-to-energy incineration sites in the region.

"Obviously, people in the Fraser Valley will be fully engaged every step of the way," he said. "The people of the Fraser Valley will be their (Metro Vancouver's) worst nightmare come true."

Opposition by Fraser Valley residents - and the B.C. government at the time - was largely behind the defeat of the Sumas II natural gas-fired energy plant in Sumas, Washington.

The minister's approval comes with conditions for "consultation" by Metro Vancouver with the Fraser Valley Regional District before any sites are approved.

But Les called that "cold comfort" given Metro Vancouver's past record of consultation with FVRD officials and at public meetings held in the Fraser Valley.

"I don't put a lot of faith in the consultation (by) Metro Vancouver," he said. "To them, consultation is holding a meeting, and then doing what they want anyway."

Chilliwack-Hope MLA Barry Penner, a former environment minister and currently Attorney-General, was less critical of his fellow cabinet minister's decision.

"I've spoken to (Terry) Lake many times and I've always repeated the message that I don't want to see our air quality negatively impacted in the Fraser Valley," Penner said in a voicemail to The Progress.

"At the same time, it's important to stress (the approval) doesn't mean an actual project to incinerate garbage has been approved," he said.

"Given the financial challenges already facing Metro Vancouver," he added, which includes the cost of required sewage treatment facilities and the Evergreen Transit line, "it's hard to imagine them taking on yet another expensive and risky project at this time."

FVRD chair Patricia Ross and Chilliwack Mayor Sharon Gaetz earlier reacted angrily to the minister's announcement.

"We have undertaken three years of world-wide research looking at the best of WTE technology, and there's none of them acceptable in this airshed," Ross said.

Gaetz said if the environment minister hoped to "placate" the Fraser Valley with promises of consultation "we are not placated."

"We are angry and frustrated," she said. "We are opposed to incineration, period."

At a FVRD board meeting Tuesday night, Ross repeated her disappointment with the minister's ruling, but added that talks continue with Metro Vancouver officials.

Gwen O'Mahony, a former NDP election candidate, said waste-to-energy incineration facilities, which also produce electricity, are not acceptable in the fragile Fraser Valley airshed, "but there's a larger issue."

"There's a deficit of leadership," she said. "We need to have a change of leadership, period.

She called the consultation meetings Metro Vancouver held last year in Fraser Valley communities "a sham" because the decision was already made to use the WTE method to incinerate garbage rather than truck it to a landfill in Cache Creek.

O'Mahony said she is "sick and tired" of seeing the public interest sacrificed to "the great god - the economy."

"We are going to be told WTE is good for us, and good for the economy," she said.

Lois Jackson, chair of the Metro Vancouver board, said in a news release that the region is "committed to collaboration" with the Fraser Valley, and that the new solid waste management plan deals with the million tonnes of garbage that cannot be recycled.

"This is a plan that protects the environment and also generates revenue that will help pay for the things we need to safely and responsibly manage our garbage," she said.

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