The message from the jam-packed meeting was clear.
Find another location for the proposed waste recycling plant, far away from the edge of the Fraser River.
More than 150 people filled Evergreen Hall Saturday in Chilliwack, spilling out into the hall.
They came to hear river conservationist Mark Angelo and other river stewards, like First Nations, sport fishing and enviro reps, speak passionately about their concerns about PCBs and mercury being recycled and transferred at a site on Cattermole lands.
Reps from a total of 17 groups have come together to oppose the rezoning, said Rod Clapton of the B.C. Federation of Drift Fishers.
Some speakers asked about the prospect of legal action to stop the rezoning, while others wondered if Ministry of the Environment could step in.
Clapton said they support development, but with the proviso that it be done in an environmentally responsible way.
“We’re not opposed to the facility. We’re opposed to the location,” said Clapton.
He recommended that people “demand accountability” from their elected officials, in the form of a full environmental assessment before the project gets off the ground.
The problem is not the idea of hazardous waste being recycled by the applicant Aevitas Inc. It’s the riverside location of the proposed site on Cannor Road that is all wrong, said speaker after speaker, Saturday at the public forum in Evergreen Hall.
There’s too much at stake to site a hazardous waste recycling and transfer station on the banks of the greatest salmon producing river in the world, said celebrated river conservationist Mark Angelo during his talk.
A “precautionary” approach should prevail, he said, in a decision “fraught with risk, like this one,” where the plant would be a mere 100 to 200 metres from the water.
“This is an issue that is resonating with so many people,” he said. “Local populations are most often in the best position to protect waterways.”
As a teacher, writer, speaker and paddler, who knows the Fraser River better than most, Angelo was invited to be the afternoon’s keynote speaker.
“I’ve had a love for this part of the Fraser for a long time,” he said, which led to the birth of B.C. Rivers Day, and World Rivers Day.
The topic Saturday afternoon at the public forum was the proposed rezoning of a property on Cannor Road for use as a waste recycling and transfer station for Aevitas Inc.
The property on the Cattermole lands requires a rezoning to a special industrial zone, M6, for the facility to be allowed to operate.
The application has already received three readings and was unanimously approved by Chilliwack council. Some complained that they weren’t aware of the Dec. 3 public hearing on the rezoning, but city officials have reiterated that all the legislative requirements for the hearing process were met.
The volumes of toxic and hazardous materials, like PCBs and mercury, are “high,” Angelo said at the meeting. “It’s staggering if you think of it.”
Before the meeting, he shared some ideas with The Progress.
“A key concern about this proposal is that hazardous waste facilities like this have an environmental risk attached to them because of the materials they handle,” wrote Angelo in an email. “Consequently, in terms of where they’re located, they should be placed a significant distance from any river and out of the floodplain.”
Anyone would be hard-pressed to find a similar plant sited near a river, let alone one like the Fraser, with its embarrassment of riches in terms of species of salmon and sturgeon.
“Consequently, in terms of where they’re located, they should be placed a significant distance from any river and out of the floodplain,” he argued.
Even Aevitas’s other facilities are not built in such ecologically sensitive environments, Angelo noted.
“Given the exceptional values of the Fraser, I believe it’s essential that we take a precautionary approach – and find an alternative site farther away from the river.
“The current proposal for the plant is not consistent with such a precautionary approach. Consequently, we’ll be asking council to hold back from any final decision, allow for additional consultation and input – and review alternative sites.
“And to Aevitas, I would say their interest in this particular site runs counter to what they’ve traditionally stood for and, if they were to build there, I think it would detract in many ways and for many years from the otherwise noble work they do,” said Angelo.
So approval by the province is by no means certain, he predicted.
“Also, I believe many will oppose and take issue with any proposal that claims the only location for a large toxic materials treatment plant happens to be on the banks of the great Fraser River.
“This amazing river is the heart and soul of our province and this proposal, in this location, is not consistent with any kind of plan to protect the river’s key natural values.
“For that reason, this issue is starting to resonate with a huge number of people and I think those numbers will continue to grow.
Also presenting were Sto:lo Grand Chief Clarence Pennier, Glen Thompson from Friends of the Chilliwack River Valley and more.