When I got to the Darlene Ryan Port Robinson Community Centre Monday night for the anti-incinerator session, parking was scarce and most of the seats inside taken. Organizers say 184 people attended (hall limit 107) and others went home because they couldn’t get inside. There wasn’t a spare inch of room.
There was a quick introduction to the night’s proceedings by moderator Debbie Barnes, a member of hosting Port Robinson Proud. It came with a request to keep the evening civil with no attacks, personal or otherwise. The organization was good, the crowd well-behaved, and the speakers non-inflammatory.
First speaker was Liz Benneian from No Burn Niagara, an advocate of environmental advocacy and education as well as the founder of the Zero Waste Coalition.
As might be expected, there are a number of health issues, not the least of which is cancer, that can result from the stack emissions of a garbage incinerator, no matter how clean they think they’ve made it. There are always particles too small to scrub (under 2.5 microns these days) and often they’re the most dangerous. And if you’re counting on the Ontario Ministry of the Environment to protect you, did a good job of dispelling that myth. And of course the waste in the form of ash has to be disposed of in a licensed hazardous waste disposal site.
In case you have faith in such sites, remember Clean Harbors (next door to where the incinerator wants to go)? In 2007 there was an explosion and fire that caused the evacuation of 200 homes in the area. Besides lithium batteries, there were drums of other unknown hazardous materials that Thorold’s firefighters had to endure. To this day, as far as I know, no cause was determined, no charges laid and little idea what toxins may have been released (other than traces of lithium and copper in the soil).
Liz pointed out that garbage incineration wasn’t a part of the Green Energy Act but that the Ministry gave the go-ahead for the eight cent per subsidy anyways. Our electric bill will pay for that. And, even if the municipality won’t own the plant, there is another possible cost. Apparently, such agreements include what the presenters called a “Put or Pay” clause meaning that if the Region doesn’t provide enough garbage, it will be forced to pay a penalty. This could result in higher taxes or a reduction in diversion of waste away from recycling to meet quotas…or the Region could have to import garbage.
Then there’s the catch-all promise of “Jobs, jobs, jobs”, pointing out that very little of the promised work materializes. Some proponents will no doubt claim that turning this down will tell the business world that Thorold is closed for business, but only an idiot could fail to understand this situation.
Second was Linda Gasser, a co-founder of Zero Waste 4 Zero Burning and former incineration campaign coordinator of Prevent Cancer Now (PCN).
Linda spoke to the nonsense that the folks of York and Durham Regions had to endure in the process of having an incinerator placed in Clarington. First there was the questionable politics and then, although the proponents had to go through a nine-year environmental assessment, the terms of reference didn’t include either fly or bottom ash. Then the plant was OK’d with a requirement of only required one stack test per year. She said the OK was given even though the plant met none of the test conditions it had to meet.
Linda said such airborne pollution should all be listed as a Class 1 carcinogen, but that the effects are largely unquantifiable because of long latency periods (cancer may take years to show up) and mitigating factors.
In the end, the only hopes to stop this, they said, is a well-organized grassroots campaign. It will take a lot of work and a lot of political ear-bending, but it is possible.
In case anyone is wondering, the City was represented by CAO Frank Fabiano and Councillors Neale, Longo, Ugulini, Paone, and Handley. I’m told that they were advised not to address the reason for their vote because five Councillors is a quorum and would constitute a Council Meeting should they participate. (I understand Councillors Charron and Wilson were on vacation and Tim Whalen had a prior commitment). Moved by this information, several Councillors expressed to me an interest in seeing what they could do at this point to reverse the process.
Two proponent representatives were present last night. They didn’t address the crowd, either because they were advised not to or had the good sense not to. Despite the good behavior of the crowd and the control of the organizers, they might not have been happy to be told, “Don’t worry, be happy.”
Just in closing, a word to the wise: if you want to be taken seriously, don’t light up a smoke right outside of the Community Centre right after the talk.