Metro Vancouver won’t give the neighbouring Fraser Valley Regional District an observer on an expert panel overseeing plans to build a new garbage incinerator.
Instead, the Metro regional district will set up a political liaison committee with Fraser Valley officials to counter their complaints of inadequate consultation over the waste-to-energy strategy.
The FVRD board in December demanded a seat on the expert panel, which is providing independent advice to guide the procurement process now underway.
But Metro reps essentially don’t trust that their counterparts to the east – who strongly oppose garbage incineration over air pollution concerns – won’t simply use the position to sabotage the entire process.
“There have to be a confidential conversations between those experts,” said Metro zero waste committee chair Malcolm Brodie, the mayor of Richmond. “That’s a very technical aspect of the problem that they’re dealing with and not a political one.”
Metro staff have met with the FVRD nine times, Brodie said.
And the zero waste committee has also invited Fraser Valley reps to meet with them but FVRD board chair Sharon Gaetz rejected that as not providing meaningful consultation as ordered by the province.
Instead, the waste committee agreed Thursday to form a separate political liaison committee to directly meet with FVRD reps to try to address their concerns.
There isn’t much optimism that any minds will be changed, after years of highly public spats between the two regions over incineration.
“I know it will be an unpleasant experience,” said Burnaby Mayor Derek Corrigan, who predicts the FVRD will use every opportunity to derail Metro’s decision to build new waste-to-energy capacity and stop trucking trash to the Cache Creek regional landfill.
Most Metro directors reject the FVRD’s belief that incineration cannot be done without worsening pollution and harming the Valley.
“I’m worried that by us being so respectful of our political colleagues we add legitimacy to an idea that is ridiculous and absurd,” said Corrigan, who voted against the new committee.
He accused Valley politicians of using the issue as a platform for “self-aggrandizement.”
If the Fraser Valley were truly concerned about pollution, he said, it should fight Kinder Morgan’s pipeline expansion plan that will bring an estimated 400 tankers per year steaming into the port.
“It doesn’t matter what we say,” added Langley City Coun. Gayle Martin. “They don’t want us to have one.”
Brodie said the FVRD must accept that Metro has provincial approval through its solid waste plan to expand waste-to-energy capacity and that the only issue is how and where it’s done.
“Whether people like it or not, that decision has been made,” he said.
Vancouver Coun. Andrea Reimer said more effort with the FVRD is worthwhile, if only because provincial environment ministry approval of the final project may rest on how well Metro consulted its neighbours.
Abbotsford Coun. Patricia Ross said she’s disappointed the FVRD is barred from the expert panel.
“I see absolutely no problem with us being able to observe,” she said. “It’s yet another block to sincere and honest consultation.”
Ross said a key question is whether a new incinerator is built in Metro Vancouver or at an out-of-region site, such as Vancouver Island, in which case the FVRD has no objections.
Metro aims to have a new waste-to-energy plant – or perhaps multiple plants – built by 2018.
Potential sites both in and outside the region are to be proposed this summer and made public by fall.
Meanwhile, Metro is currently calling for prospective partners to table their credentials and what type of waste-to-energy technology they’d use.
Thirty-three firms expressed initial interest and they must respond to Metro’s request for qualifications by Feb. 14 if they want to advance in the multi-stage procurement process.
The province has ordered Metro to engage in one year of consultations with the FVRD once potential sites are identified, followed by a decision on a final bidder in 2015.