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Metro Vancouver picks incineration experts without FVRD input

Abbotsford Coun. and Fraser Valley Regional District vice-chair Patricia Ross and Abbotsford Mayor Bruce Banman. - File
Abbotsford Coun. and Fraser Valley Regional District vice-chair Patricia Ross and Abbotsford Mayor Bruce Banman.
— image credit: File

Fraser Valley politicians are outraged Metro Vancouver didn't consult them when it hired a panel of third-party experts to help guide the controversial process of building a new waste-to-energy plant to burn Metro garbage.

Opposition to a possible new in-region incinerator is fierce in the Fraser Valley Regional District, where air pollution from the Vancouver area concentrates, and reps there condemned Metro's move to unilaterally pick most of the panel.

"We are the recipients of their pollution," FVRD vice-chair Patricia Ross said. "Yet I get the sense they see us as a pesky fly to be batted out of the way."

The two regions have dueled before over the science of incineration.

FVRD reps criticized Metro-enlisted experts as pro-incineration during public consultations leading up to the province's 2011 approval of Metro's solid waste plan to pursue new waste-to-energy capacity.

Ross also publicly feuded with Provincial Health Officer Dr. Perry Kendall after he said he saw few health risks from waste incineration and Metro yanked grant funding from an air quality scientist who said it would be "stupid" to build more incinerators in the airshed.

Ross isn't yet calling the panelists biased but says Metro should have consulted the FVRD on the choice if it was serious about following the direction from B.C.'s environment minister to ensure Valley concerns are fairly considered.

"I want to discover whether they have a bias," Ross said. "What's their past history? Have they worked closely with the industry?"

Panelists hired by Metro so far are: waste-to-energy technical expert and professional engineer Jeremy O'Brien, who was nominated by the Solid Waste Association of North America; energy and sustainability expert Thomas Pedersen, who was nominated by and is executive director of the Pacific Institute for Climate Solutions; and air quality and health expert Michael Brauer, a professor at UBC's School of Population and Public Health and nominated by UBC's Bridge Program.

A fourth and final appointee with expertise in health impact assessment is still to be nominated by the Fraser and Vancouver Coastal health authorities.

Red flags about the lack of FVRD input went up at Metro's Oct. 26 board meeting, where Surrey Coun. Marvin Hunt said he wanted the list of panelists run by Valley reps.

"History shows we can bring in experts from all over the world and if they're not respected as experts we're going to hear nothing but complaints," Hunt said.

The board agreed to refer the panelist list for feedback, but not approval, to not just the FVRD but also other neighbouring regional districts and to the environment ministry.

"I'm much more interested in whether the provincial government sees this as a fair panel," Burnaby Mayor Derek Corrigan said. "We want to be sure they are impartial and objective."

Metro also intends to invite FVRD reps to a future meeting of its zero waste committee to try to iron out differences over the waste-to-energy procurement process, which was approved by the board Friday.

Extensive consultations have been promised as Metro aims to build new waste-fired capacity to burn an extra 370,000 tonnes of garbage per year by 2018 while it phases out its use of the Cache Creek regional landfill.

Qualified proponents and their technologies are to be identified first and then Metro will seek potential sites – in and outside the region – that would later be matched with short-listed proponents.

A winning bidder would be picked in early 2015 ahead of an environmental assessment and other permitting.

Ross said it's disappointing Metro doesn't believe it needs FVRD approval on the expert panel.

Nor does she believe alternative emerging waste-to-energy technologies like gasification or pyrolysis – advocated by some Metro directors – are necessarily cleaner or healthier.

In a staff report, the FVRD criticizes Metro's planned consultations, arguing they would be too limited in scope, start too soon since decisions on sites and technologies are still years away, and would inappropriately lump the FVRD in with other regional districts with less at stake.

It also says a proposed Metro-FVRD working group on potential air quality impacts doesn't go as far as the province requires.

Abbotsford Mayor Bruce Banman said his city remains solidly against a new in-region incinerator and is concerned about how the process is unfolding so far.

"Metro continues to be blatantly disrespectful and contrary to the rules they've been told to apply," Banman said. "The minister should be very concerned."

Banman said Metro campaigns to protect farmland and food security yet fails to reject incineration based on the risk it poses if airborne toxins land on food crops.

"They speak out of one side of their mouth on how they need to preserve farmland to feed ourselves in the future, yet this very action can put that in jeopardy."

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