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Waste plant earns the Fraser a spot on endangered rivers list

The Chilliwack section of the Fraser River made the ORC
The Chilliwack section of the Fraser River made the ORC's Most Endangered B.C. Rivers' list for 2014 because of the Aevitas waste recycling plant proposal.
— image credit: JENNA HAUCK/ PROGRESS FILE

The controversial waste recycling project planned by Aevitas Inc. has earned the Chilliwack part of the Fraser River a spot on the most endangered rivers' list by the Outdoor Recreation Council of B.C.

The local section of the Fraser was listed alongside B.C. rivers like the Peace, Similkameen, Pennask, and Callaghan Creek, because it faces a "major new threat" in the form of the waste recycling plant, according to the ORC.

"A major new threat is a proposed hazardous waste treatment plant slated for a riverside location that has already been rezoned for such activity by the local government of Chilliwack," said Mark Angelo in the ORC release.

“The proposed location for this facility, which would be built by Aevitas and handle such dangerous materials as PCBs and mercury, is in the midst of the most productive and sensitive part of the Fraser.

"If there was to be a spill, a leaching issue, or a major event such as a fire or flood, the river would be inescapably impacted, as would downstream communities," said Angelo, adding the precautionary approach should apply.

This is the point at which the stories of the two sides start to diverge.

Chilliwack council approved the M6, 'special industrial' rezoning on Cannor Road for the waste recycling plant proposed by Ontario-based firm Aevitas earlier in the year. Several council members said they were convinced the recycling activity could be conducted safely at the site, and impressed by the company's safety record.

Aevitas president Byron Day is calling the whole matter "ironic," given the role that Aevitas plays as responsible recycling stewards of the environment.

Aevitas is known as an industry specialist in the hazardous waste treatment field, with experience in safe handling of a range of waste that could otherwise be dangerous. The Chilliwack facility will be their 10th waste recycling facility.

"It is very ironic that a plant set up to eliminate PCB and mercury can be called a threat to the river," Day wrote in a terse email after being notified about the ORC's 2014 most endangered rivers' listing.

Opposition to the project is "escalating rapidly," Angelo suggested, and a legal challenge to the rezoning process had been filed.

"While ORC clearly supports the importance of treating toxic wastes, such facilities must be located on more appropriate sites away from rivers," Angelo added.

As far as it being the "wrong" location, Day countered that they looked exhaustively for the right location before choosing the Cannor Road site in Chilliwack, in part because of the safety aspects of being located away from the city's residential and commercial centres in a more remote spot.

The waste recyclers have vowed to make the plant disaster-proof, and the location would be about 150 to 200 metres from the river.

“One of the reasons why we like that location is because it is in a diked area,” said Day back in a February news story. “If there was a major spill, it’s not going anywhere from those areas, and it won’t free drain into the river.”

They have systems designed to safely handle waste that could be otherwise be hazardous, but none of the groups with stated opposition to the plant have ever acknowledged these steps.

Aevitas reps say the plant will have an odour control system, geo membranes, fire suppression foam, and assurance that all waste recycling will be conducted indoors. The floors of the facility will be built above the catastrophic flood level and it will be built to withstand a flood and not be affected.

"I would think these groups would be promoting our processes as they take care of the very contaminants that cause the problems in the river," Day concluded in his note to the Progress.

jfeinberg@theprogress.com

Twitter.com/chwkjourno

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