Environmental concerns about a proposed waste recycling plant near the Fraser River are not going away.
The matter was a sore spot for some residents and river stewards at Tuesday’s rezoning hearing but the rezoning received unanimous approval by city council.
At the same hearing, the spectre of river pollution was raised by Mayor Sharon Gaetz who said she was interested in talking about the leachate potential of a nearby landfill operation on Cheam First Nations land.
The Aevitas plant will be monitored by both the city and Ministry of Environment, but unregulated facilities are not.
Some called that an attempt to deflect concern away from any risks posed by the waste facility proposal by Aevitas for Cannor Road.
It came up when Cheam band councillor-elect Ernie Crey stood up in council chambers at the public hearing and asked Chilliwack to hold off on rezoning the property on the Cattermole Lands until local First Nations could consider the implications, citing fishery concerns.
Mayor Sharon Gaetz later explained that consultation with First Nations are required for OCP amendment hearings, but not rezonings.
“While I’ve got you here. You referenced the Fraser River, sometime I’d like to talk to you about the landfill and the potential for leachate going into the river,” said Mayor Gaetz to Crey about the Cheam site, adding later on social media that “unregulated” landfills were more of a concern than the Aevitas proposal.
“My offer to talk was genuine. It’s in all of our best interests to ensure there’s no damage to our waterways. “I’m proud of Chilliwack’s environmental record.”
The dump site has been a source of great concern for the communities around it including Chilliwack and Agassiz-Harrison, Gaetz said.
“I hope they do have a leachate system in place. We value the chance to talk frankly and ask questions of our neighbours and I’m looking forward to continued positive relations with Cheam.”
But the concerns about the old landfill are not founded, or may have been out of date, as it has received a clean bill of health, according to Cheam officials.
“The landfill has been closed for over two years now,” said Cheam Chief Sidney Douglas, in a phone interview from Ottawa where he’s attending a national chiefs’ meeting.
“We still monitor it and it’s been sealed off.
“We check the water quality to make sure it’s safe, and have wells near the Hope Slough.”
Monitoring wells also went in around the landfill and a “reputable” environmental consultant firm was engaged by Cheam to monitor the water quality on an ongoing basis.
Chief Douglas would not name the consulting firm.
“We don’t have to report to anyone but we keep our records,” he said, in response to the question about the old landfill being “unregulated.”