A handful of environmentally conscious citizens showed up at Chilliwack city hall Tuesday to oppose a rezoning proposal for a hazardous waste recycling facility in Cattermole Business Park.
They had questions about the mercury lamps that will be crushed and the treatment of transformer oil and electrical equipment with low level PCBs.
But in the end council unanimously approved second and third reading of the M6 rezoning for a riverside facility on Cannor Road to be built by Ontario-based firm Aevitas.
The special industrial rezoning went through despite several letters of opposition, and public commentary against the idea from many who raised the spectre of impacts like major flooding or a haz-mat spill into the river.
Ernie Crey, fisheries advisor to Sto:lo Tribal Council, and councillor elect for Cheam First Nation, asked if city officials would hold off on making their decision until local First Nations could review the recycling proposal.
Other river stewards and environmentalists asked council to turn down the rezoning for the 1.78-hectare portion, arguing the riverside location was wrong.
Resident Bob Buhler was aghast, and said he was most concerned about the mercury.
“It’s so close to the river, it’s mind-boggling that you would consider something like this,” he said.
Answering questions at the podium in council chambers was Aevitas company spokesman Byron Day, who said they chose the Cannor Road site because of its somewhat remote location, away from town and busy intersections.
Asked by Mayor Sharon Gaetz about the company’s safety record, Day replied:
“In 20 years, we’ve never had an incident,” later adding, “We are the company that cleans up for everyone else.”
Day explained the way the company developed safe methods for crushing mercury-laden lamps under negative pressure to extract the mercury, and breaking down the components of PCB-laden transformer oil.
Aevitas is an industry specialist in the hazardous waste treatment field, with vast experience in safe handling of a range of waste that could otherwise be a danger to communities.
“I’ve been convinced they will be responsible stewards of our environment,” said Coun. Ken Huttema.
Part of the rationale for approval by Coun. Steward McLean included the acknowledgement that Aevitas has not had a safety incident or a complaint at any of their waste treatment facilities in more than 20 years.
“That speaks loudly about who we’re dealing with.”
Coun. Jason Lum asked for and received the additional condition that should the province issue notice of a flood or high water, that the facility be required to evacuate
Day said Aevitas chose Chilliwack for their 10th waste recycling facility, in part because the facility could be sited above the 1-in-200-year floodplain mark. They have systems which are specially designed to safely handle waste that could be otherwise be hazardous. The plan includes an odour control system, geo membranes, fire suppression foam, and tanks that come up to the level of the dike for flood prevention. All waste recycling activities will be conducted indoors.
A special covenant will go on the land title limiting the land use to this specific purpose and a good neighbour agreement will also be signed, including protocols for handling complaints.