Mission council has postponed making a decision on a proposed air curtain burner in the Hatzic area.
The decision came after a long, and often emotionally charged, public input meeting on Monday night.
The issue at hand is a request for a temporary-use permit, submitted by Triple J Aggregates, to run a burner for a year on a property located at 34980 Lougheed Highway.
The owners are attempting to remediate the property – a former lumber mill – and want to burn the numerous large piles and sub-surface deposits of wood debris on the site. The applicant estimates the amount of debris ranges from 50,000 to 150,000 cubic metres.
According to a staff report, before the permit is issued, the applicant will be required to gain approval from the provincial government under the Environmental Management Act, due to the property’s proximity to Hatzic Middle School.
An air curtain burner is a self-contained, pre-assembled incinerator roughly the size of a shipping container. Air is injected into the container to burn the waste material at a high temperature.
The applicant proposes to use the burner for 12 months – from 7:30 a.m. to 4:30 p.m. every day except Sundays – and only for the incineration of wood waste on the property.
According to the application, the emissions are minimal, with little to no smoke produced and only a small amount of ash left over.
However, some residents of the area are not confident that the emissions – or the environmental and health impacts – will be as minimal as claimed.
Speaker after speaker raised their concerns and objections.
“What we don’t know is the minute particulate that gets thrown up into the atmosphere, and we all know … we mostly have a southwest daily wind … I think that would drive a lot of this particulate right over Hatzic Bench,” said one resident.
Many people asked why only the surrounding area received notifications about the burner, when all of Mission could be impacted, depending on winds.
“We don’t really want this anywhere near our homes,” said another speaker.
One major concern is how children living in the area will be impacted, considering the proximity to daycares and to Hatzic Middle School.
One man pointed out that he and his two sons suffer from asthma, and, although the burner might burn
relatively clean, it will still affect his family’s health.
“There is going to be some particulate that gets out and this is going to get into the lungs of children … What is the pollution going to be and is this just economics over health? Is that what this is?” he said.
As the evening progressed, some speakers became angry and expressed those feeling to council.
“What you are trying to do is horrific!” yelled one woman. “All of Mission should have been informed … Other options should be looked at before this option was even on the table.”
After being told to take a breath and calm herself, she continued.
“Just haul it to the dump. Haul it to the compost. Figure it out. And as far as Monday to Friday to Saturday, 7:30 to 4:30, for a whole year and destroying my quality of life, my home, my enjoyment of life, I don’t think that’s fair.”
Other concerns included the possible contamination of the soil and what containments will be burned, the proximity to the Fraser River, and the fire hazard that could occur by disturbing the piles of old wood.
There have been spot fires on the property in the past.
According to the staff report, the potential for a fire hazard is a real risk in its current state. Danger exists in that, once the piles of woody debris are disturbed, there is an increased risk of spontaneous combustion.
Mission Fire Rescue Service has stated that an air curtain burner is the best method of remediation for the property.
Tim Turner with the compliance and enforcement branch of the Ministry of Forests, Lands, Natural Resource Operations and Rural Development was on hand and attempted to address some of the public’s concerns.
“With regards to the environmental impact of an air curtain burner, I completely understand why there is a lot of concern. If you haven’t seen one operating, you are going to be concerned about it … The burners that they’re talking about, they burn less than a diesel truck running at 80 km/h,” he said, noting that many such trucks run along the Lougheed Highway through the area.
“The burning is self-contained. If there are heavy particulate matters in the stuff you’re burning, the way it burns, that particulate doesn’t actually go into the environment any more than you would get coming out of someone having a fireplace burning.”
Although Turner and an expert representing the applicant attempted to answer questions and soothe concerns, most members of the public were not placated.
One man even stated he didn’t trust the information being shared, which appeared to irk Turner.
“I work for you. I have nothing to do with Triple J. I have nothing to do with the qualified engineering professional. I don’t. Your taxes pay my salary … I take a little bit of exception to people when they say they don’t trust something that I am fully believing in,” Turner said.
“I’m telling you that if I thought Triple J was not following the processes and procedures that have been put in place, I would not allow that to happen and I have the arm of the BC government backing me up … What I care about is the realm of control that I have and that’s the environmental realm … We, the province, are not going to allow them to do something shifty, just so they can turn a dollar.”
After the public forum was closed, council quickly voted to defer a decision, saying there was inadequate information.
“I really don’t feel comfortable in making a decision because I would like to review the material and I’d like the public to review all the material we have heard this evening,” said Mayor Pam Alexis, adding that it is a significant decision and more information is required.