Good neighbours communicate

The company hoping to build a hazardous waste recycling depot could have done a better job communicating with its future neighours

It is an awkward spot: that place between environmental responsibility and the mess that comes with keeping our world clean.

In Chilliwack on Tuesday, councillors tried to find that balance.

Before them was a proposal to rezone a piece of property in the Cattermol industrial district to allow a waste recycling plant.

On the surface, it is a noble endeavor. Waste recycling is a critical part of our effort to manage the tonnes of garbage we generate daily.

But the details were a bit more troubling for some who turned out for the public hearing.

The proponent wants to recycle of up to 500,000 mercury and non-mercury light bulbs monthly, and 5,000 litres of electrical transformer oil with a PCB level up to 500 parts per million.

It also wants to create a transfer site that would handle hazardous materials like flammable and corrosive liquids, as well as “toxic and infectious substances.”

That someone is willing to deal with these substances is commendable. Better that heavy metals and PCB-laden oils be removed from the waste stream than buried in a landfill. And given the mandated trend toward compact fluorescent light bulbs, it is important we have ways to deal with the tiny amount of mercury they contain.

But while most would applaud the recycling, some at the hearing questioned its location.

It’s proximity to the Fraser River drew questions and concern, especially given the Fraser River’s flood potential.

Council said it was confident those concerns would be addressed.

But the bigger question is why this information and assurances weren’t made to the public prior to the  hearing.

Many had no idea that rezoning application advertised in one community newspaper entailed hazardous waste. Indeed, that information was only contained in the initial staff report that went to council (and carried in a Progress’ front page story last week).

Would it not have been better for the company to host a public information meeting to make its case for both the project’s environmental importance, its economic significance to the city, and the safeguards that will be in place?

It could have eased some of the distrust and suspicion voiced Tuesday night – while adding some credibility to the “good neighbour” agreement the proponent was required to sign before gaining approval.

Greg Knill is editor of the Chilliwack Progress