Zoning opposition comes late

The property that will be home to a controversial waste treatment facility has been industrial land for more than a decade.

Fervid opposition to the waste treatment plant planned for the Cattermole Industrial Estates in west Chilliwack reached its peak this week, with fourth and final reading for the rezoning application facing almost certain approval.

Although the outcome was not known at press time, denial would come only if Aevitas, the company looking to build the facility, had failed to meet the conditions laid down by Chilliwack city council back in December. That seems unlikely; on Friday the city issued a statement saying the conditions had, in fact, been met.

Approval of the rezoning is equally unlikely to end the debate.

Opponents, who see the plant as an environmental disaster waiting to happen, hope the provincial government will intercede. That, too, seems unlikely given the concurrent approval process the environment ministry undertakes.

So what lessons can be learned from this?

To the critics: do a little homework.

During the extensive public consultation period as Chilliwack updated its Official Community Plan last year, there was little concern expressed about the Cattermole lands. The private property has been designated “heavy industrial” since 2001 as Chilliwack sought ways to set some land aside for future industrial growth and the jobs that development would bring. Most has been zoned M4 heavy industrial for 13 years – a zoning “best suited for industrial activities which produce an objectionable appearance or high levels or noise or airborne pollutants.” The property across the road from the proposed waste treatment plant, meanwhile, already holds the special M6 zoning that opponents have fought so diligently against.

None of these existing zones seem consistent with the pristine riverside habitat critics feel should exist there.

And yet, during the OCP consultations, they were silent. And when the city followed its scripted protocol for the property’s rezoning, they were surprised.

Opponents contend that this is the wrong location for a facility that will handle the kinds of material destined to be treated or transferred there.

What they choose to ignore is that this is privately held land that has been zoned heavy industrial for more than a decade. Reversing that status will take more than a blustery assault on council and a tour by the NDP environment critic.

In fact, the M6 zoning may be the best option for the property. The city insists special conditions within the zoning, coupled with the company’s record and reputation, provides adequate protection.

Indeed, it’s probably more protection than the Fraser River gets than from the dangerous cargo carried daily by truck across its bridges, or the heavy oil and other toxic materials shipped along the rail lines skirting its banks.

We have a responsibility to be careful stewards of the lands we cherish; to craft policies and practices that provide longterm solutions to our presence, and thread the delicate balance between economic growth and environmental sustainability.

That effort is not helped when it is tainted by the whiff of political opportunism.

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