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Opposition mounts to hazardous waste facility on Fraser River in Chilliwack

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Representatives from 11 organizations—environmental, First Nations and sports fishery—gathered on the exposed sandbars of the Fraser River Tuesday to express their strong opposition to a proposed hazardous waste recycling facility nearby.

Chilliwack city council unanimously approved the rezoning on Dec. 3 to allow for the Aevitas plant, which will recycle, among other things, 5,000 litres of transformer oil containing PCBs and 500,000 lamps containing mercury every month.

"This is just not the location," B.C. Federation of Drift Fishers president Rod Clapton said Tuesday.

"For gosh sakes, not on the banks of the Fraser River," added Joe Foy, national campaign director for the Wilderness Committee.

Grand Chief Clarence Pennier of the Sto:lo Tribal Council (STC) expressed his disappointment that First Nations were not consulted in any way about the project.

Chilliwack Mayor Sharon Gaetz has pointed out on social media that the city followed all that is required of them by legislation under the Local Government Act.

Pennier didn't dispute that the city does not have a legal duty to consult with First Nations, but he suggested it is what good neighbours do.

"They should at least talk to us about what projects are going to happen in our territory," Pennier said.

Other organizations represented at the press conference included the Fraser Valley Salmon Society, the B.C. Federation of Fly Fishers, the Steelhead Society of B.C., the Fraser Valley Angling Guides Association, the Fraser River Salmon Table, the Chilliwack Fish & Game Protective Association, the Watershed Watch Salmon Society and the Chilliwck-based WaterWealth Project.

All those in attendance on Tuesday reiterated that their organizations were not opposed to the existence of a hazardous waste recycling facility, but the Cannor Road property on the Cattermole Lands, which frequently has water on it during the freshet, was not a good choice.

The groups collectively demand relocation of the proposed facility to a site that does not pose a risk to fish stocks, and comprehensive public reviews of the proposal by the Ministry of Environment and the Ministry of Health.

A city staff report from the rezoning hearing stated that the Aevitas plant's design will be subject to Ministry of Health approval.

It was at that hearing that, in response to STC fisheries advisor Ernie Crey's request to delay a decision until First Nations could properly respond, Gaetz addressed her concern about the Cheam band's dump, which is not in operation. She called it a "toxic landfill," which is "far more dangerous to our waters than a recycling operation."

The Cheam landfill on the band's reserve has long been alleged to have been a dump for toxic construction materials.

Crey responded that the Cheam landfill has a "clean bill of health," according to what he has been told. He and others also pointed out that Gaetz's comments were a deflection and had nothing to do with the hazardous waste facility in question. 

Aevitas president Byron Day addressed council on Dec. 3 to say the company has 20 years of experience doing this work on a larger scale in Brantford, Ontario.

He said the work would be done in an enclosed facility with emergency protection, fire suppression equipment and flood protection measures.

Day did not respond to an email request for an interview to explain the project further and why the site in question was chosen.

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