Chilliwack mayor responds to hazardous waste location controversy

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Mayor Sharon Gaetz says the local watershed in Chilliwack is so interconnected, the location of a proposed hazardous waste recycling facility on industrial land near the Fraser River is as suitable as elsewhere.

“We understand that there was some concern about the location of the facility and definitely took that under consideration at the time of the public hearing," Gaetz said in an emailed comment. "A poorly operated facility with sub-par safety measures would not be safe at any location in our city. Our watershed is interconnected and water from ditches and creeks all over Chilliwack end up in the river. Whether it is 150 metres or 500 metres from the river, our priority was to ensure the facility would be safe."

Gaetz said the site was chosen by the proponent, Ontario-based Aevitas Inc., based on a number of factors, including that the property is in an area zoned for heavy industry and the proximity to the highway means trucks won't have to travel through residential areas.

Approximately 30 people attended the afternoon portion of Tuesday's city council meeting where a rezoning bylaw to allow for the facility was unanimously given fourth reading—essentially a legislative formality—by council.

Some criticism of city council emerged after the public hearing because of the lack of comment by Gaetz, but she pointed out that the Local Government Act forbids city council from receiving new information in between third and fourth reading.

Gaetz emailed the comments above to the Times after a request to comment on the location after fourth reading. An email was sent to the mayor and all six city councillors to comment on whether another location was considered by the proponent or city hall.

Only Coun. Jason Lum responded, saying he would be watching closely to see what happens as the proposal moves to the Ministry of Environment.

"Are their properties in Chilliwack that would sufficiently satisfy all of the concerns raised by citizens in opposition?" Lum said via email. "It's a tough decision, I'll admit it, probably one of the toughest I've experienced on Council."

Opposition to the location—between 100 and 200 metres away from the Fraser River on a Cannor Road property in the Cattermole Lands—has come from more than 20 environmental, sports fishing and First Nations organizations as well as from BC Liberal MLA Doug Bing and NDP environment critic Spencer Chandra Herbert.

B.C. Federation of Drift Fishers president Rod Clapton said the coalition of groups opposed to the site now turn their attention to higher levels of government.

"This is certainly just the first step," he said. "From here we progress to the provincial and federal level. Obviously it would appear that Chilliwack council is not concerned about the health of the Fraser River. . . . We do have a plan in place and it's full speed ahead as far as opposing this thing."

Glen Thompson of the Friends of the Chilliwack River Valley said he attended a Metro Vancouver meeting Thursday after which the board voted to request a full environmental assessment of the proposed plant, which will recycle, among other things, PCBs and mercury.

Gaetz has been vocal in her opposition to Metro Vancouver's plan to build a waste-to-energy incineration plant in that region, arguing it would damage air in the Fraser Valley.

And there has been criticism the mayor has a double standard—concerned about what Metro does to the air that affects Chilliwack but not concerned about the downstream risks to a hazardous waste facility so close to the Fraser.

Meanwhile, West Coast Environmental Law (WCEL) has stated its opposition to the location of the facility, and questioned the process undertaken by the municipality. 

Lawyer Andrew Gage said the city's advertisement for the public hearing called it a "waste recycling and transfer facility," but nowhere said it would be handling hazardous waste.

Gage added that local governments are required to make documents available to the public before public hearings, but the restrictive covenant and good neighbour agreement were only finalized in January.

"We are disappointed that Chilliwack did not take a step back, and give the public a fair opportunity to be heard," Gage wrote in a statement posted on the WCEL website.

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