A controversial rezoning by Chilliwack was upheld Monday by the Supreme Court of BC.
Critics suggested in court documents that City of Chilliwack failed to properly notify residents of a plan by Aevitas Inc. to build hazardous waste recycling and transfer facility on the Cannor Road property.
But in a judgement released Monday, Justice Peter Voith deemed the city’s notification process completely sufficient.
“I am satisfied that the Notice described the ‘general purpose’ of the Bylaw sufficiently to enable citizens to decide whether they wanted more information on the Bylaw or whether they wished to attend at the public meeting,” the judge wrote.
The city published the legal notices back in November 2013, and the Progress ran a story before the rezoning hearing about the hazardous nature of the materials, so there was ample opportunity for the public to be well-informed, the decision noted.
“The relevant Staff Report, which was posted on the City’s website and which was available to the public even before the Bylaw received first reading, was explicit about the precise materials or substances that would be handled at the ‘waste recycling and transfer facility,'” wrote Justice Voith.
“That this information was readily available to the public is confirmed by the fact that The Chilliwack Progress, a local paper, had in the week prior to the public hearing published an article about the rezoning in both the print and online versions of its paper and that it fully and accurately addressed the intended use of the Property after it was rezoned.”
The Outdoor Recreation Council (ORC) of B.C. and former Chilliwack resident Glen Thompson took the City of Chilliwack to court over what they felt was a flawed process.
“The outcome is certainly not what we had hoped and the legal decision, in our view, is not a good one for the river or the democratic process,” commented Mark Angelo, chair of the ORC.
“We continue to feel strongly that the word ‘hazardous’ should have been in the city’s initial description so that residents would have had a more precise idea of what was being proposed.”
They will consider appealing the decision, Angelo said, “while also continuing to point out (especially to the Province who will have final say) that the proposed location for this hazardous waste plant is the main problem.”
Glen Thompson, whose name was also on the decision, said he was saddened by the decision.
The “real disappointment” is that other M6 industrial ventures could be set up in the industrial area “without any hearings.”
“It appears to us the process is broken,” Thompson said. “For them to think the process was fine and dandy is really sad and it doesn’t bode well for the democratic process.”
He said the opponents were not “ruling out” an appeal, but he’s not sure how likely it will be.
“We were hoping for a positive outcome,” he said. “I think everyone is in shock. The hill has gotten steeper.”
A coalition was created of groups opposed to the location of the proposed recycling plant.
Ernie Crey, fisheries advisor to Sto:lo Tribal Council, was at the original rezoning hearing, asking City of Chilliwack delay their decision to consult local First Nations.
Crey told The Progress he was disappointed by the judge’s decision.
“I didn’t expect a different ruling,” he said. “But that said, with the city being comfortable that it played by the rules and the judge obviously agreed, now there’s this notion of the social licence,” he said.
The real question is did the project meet the general approval of the community, he asked.
“In this case, I don’t think the project has the social licence,” Crey said.
“(Aevitas president Byron) Mr. Day may want to reflect carefully on whether it’s wise to proceed with the plant at that location.
The sticking point has been the location less than 200 metres from the Fraser River, and the opponents may appeal the court decision.
Aevitas president Byron Day told The Progress in a phone interview after the decision came down that he was “quite pleased” with how it turned out. A revised two-floor design plan for the plant is even better than it was, he emphasized. Plus a new web page will be going live in a couple of weeks on the Aevitas site to explain the multiple levels of environmental protection and control that will be built into the plant design.
Day stressed there’s 10 levels of protection going in, and a new two-floor design to lower the risks of a spill or contamination even further.
“We will also be trying to explain something about the quality of our recycling processes; of how we take something hazardous and make it into a brand-new product,” said Day.
Opponents do not recognize the recycling nature of the work Aevitas hopes to do in Chilliwack.
The transformer oil and other waste products will not be “treated” they will be recycled. The lamp components will be recycled, he underlined, including the aluminum and brass parts, as well as the lamp glass.
Day is fully cognizant that all the vocal opposition, including a petition with more than 16,000 signatures, has been focused on opposing the riverside location for the project.
“Almost all suitable sites in the entire Lower Mainland are within a certain distance from farmland, from high-residential areas, or on a river or creek. There are creeks everywhere,” he said. “This is, believe it or not, one of the furthest sites from a river or creek.”
With all the protections in place, the risk to the river from flooding is “so minimal,” Day said.
But Angelo sees an inherent risk, however.
“Across North America, there are no hazardous waste treatment plants being built today beside rivers because these plants have an inherent danger to them in terms of potential leakage, seepage and spills,” said Angelo. “If there was an accident, a riverside location provides no grace. So why would any government in B.C. want to build such a plant on the shores of the world’s greatest salmon river?
The river advocate stated there are “other suitable locations” away from the river and in less sensitive locations.
But Day has stated repeatedly that this not the case, and the search across the entire Lower Mainland for the ideal location by Aevitas officials had been exhaustive.
“The next steps will include a technical review by the B.C. Ministry of Environment,” he said.
• Read the entire judgement here.