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UPDATE: Aevitas pulls plug on waste recycling plant in Chilliwack

Mayor Sharon Gaetz held a press conference at City Hall Thursday morning to
Mayor Sharon Gaetz held a press conference at City Hall Thursday morning to 'respectfully inform' the community of Chilliwack that the waste recycling plant by Aevitas Inc. would not be built in Chilliwack.
— image credit: JENNIFER FEINBERG/ PROGRESS

Aevitas Inc. has pulled the plug on plans to build a hazardous waste recycling plant by the Fraser River.

Aevitas president Byron Day said in a letter sent Wednesday it was "with great disappointment," that he had to announce the decision to nix the Chilliwack project.

"I regret to inform all interested parties that Aevitas Inc. is no longer pursuing the development and building of a state of the art special waste management facility in Chilliwack," said Day in the statement.

The "multiple hurdles" put in the project's way by opponents amounted to "a never ending uphill battle," he said.

Mayor Sharon Gaetz held a press conference at City Hall on Thursday morning to "respectfully inform" the community of Chilliwack of the decision, and was ultimately critical of the way Aevitas communicated with both city officials and the community.

"The company did not call to provide us with any additional information and simply cited 'multiple hurdles' as their reason for discontinuing the project," Gaetz said. "We wanted to ensure that the public was aware of the proponent’s decision.

The mayor underlined that despite a "restricted covenant and multiple levels of protection," there still many who could not be convinced the facility would be safe.

"It was unfortunate that Aevitas did not take the time in the beginning to speak to those concerns. We have been disappointed in the proponent’s lack of engagement with not only the City, but also, and more importantly, with our citizens."

"Despite all that, we still believe such a recycling facility is needed in the Lower Mainland," she added. "I hope Aevitas has learned a valuable lesson about communication."

The "comprehensive" engagement or consultation efforts with the community should have happened "before" the hearing took place in December 2013, she said.

The fact remains that the plant was needed and "we hope that a similar waste recycling facility will find a home here in B.C. to help all of us safely recycle a variety of materials," added Gaetz.

A coalition of First Nations, environmental groups, river stewards and sport fishing advocates formed in early 2014 to fight the proposed location of the plant, which was less than 200 metres from the Fraser River.

Opponents first stood before Chilliwack city council to oppose the rezoning, they formed a coalition, and signed a petition that yielded thousands of signatures against the riverside location.

It has always been the proximity to the river, that was the sticking point for the Aevitas plan, said Ernie Crey, fisheries advisor to Sto:lo Tribal Council and band council member for Cheam First Nation.

"I am happy to hear this news," said Crey. "I expected that they would have given up sooner, but I think that Mr. Day has made the right decision under the circumstances."

The opposition that arose against the project was never a criticism of the Aevitas owner or the recycling processes that they are known for, but rather the location, Crey underlined.

Most recently local First Nations reps met with provincial leadership to share their opposition to the plan.

The waste recycling experts at Aevitas share "the concern of opposition groups to protect the Fraser River," said Day, but it is "unfortunate that efforts and funding could not be collaborated to develop world class facilities and processes as opposed to stopping them."

They were promising 10 levels of disaster and flood protection in the design, but critics were never convinced.

"Aevitas has been a leader throughout Canada in these specialized waste recycling niches for more than 20 years," Day wrote in his statement.

"Our intent was to build a recycling facility that could handle and manage drummed hazardous waste, transformer oil and fluorescent lamps from B.C."

The Aevitas owner thanked the City of Chilliwack for support and understanding as well as CHP Architects for delivering a top-notch design.

"In this day and age, we do have the means to manage these wastes in as safe and environmentally friendly manner," Day wrote. "These wastes are present in everyone's daily lives and without facilities such as the one were proposing, improper disposal disburses them into in the air, land and water."

Lina Azeez of Watershed Watch was one of the spokespeople for the coalition, who showed up to city hall to hear what the mayor had to say. In the end, members of the public were not allowed in the press conference but Azeez was ready with to offer a reaction comment on the decision.

"We're so excited. This is a huge win for salmon and a huge win for the people of Chilliwack, as well as those downstream of here. This showed how a group of committed people can make things work.

"So we're really happy that it's not happening at that location any more," Azeez added. "But it's a bit unfortunate that they did not work with the community to find an appropriate alternative location."

Resident Wayne Froese said it was good to see "some sanity prevail" with the decision to pull out, and said it's also a positive message about the success of a grassroots effort for a "greater" good.

Sto:lo Grand Chief Clarence Pennier said the resulting decision should send "a message" to municipalities and regional districts.

"It makes me happy that they're not going to proceed in that location, but sort of sad that they're not going to pursue the project all together," he said, adding that cleaning up the environment through recycling was still needed.

"It's also a message to municipalities and regional districts that they should become better neighbours to us.

"Even if they don't have the responsibility to consult with us, they can be good neighbours."

jfeinberg@theprogress.com

twitter.com/CHWKjourno

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