Proposed RNG Project for Stratford

Proposed RNG Project for Stratford

The public meeting of the City’s Infrastructure, Transportation and Safety Committee met on Friday, December 17, 2019 to discuss the proposed Renewable Natural Gas Project. This blog post is an attempt to bring out some of the main points of that meeting, in the hope of furthering informed discussion. A much more detailed description of the meeting is available in the minutes of December 17. The Beacon Herald has published their own analysis of Friday’s meeting. as well as a letter to the editor that was heavily critical of the project.

While few question the value of removing 49,000 tonnes of greenhouse gases yearly from our atmosphere, there have been arguments against the project from the beginning, and at the December meeting Councillor Sebben proposed a halt to the project, citing problems with the location, as well as concerns over financial risks (Will we be able to maintain a profitable level of green waste input from other communities? Can we rely on governmental support past the election cycle? What will be the role of private enterprise?) Councillor Sebben’s proposal was referred to the next meeting of council on January 13.

It was a long and fairly contentious meeting, and my notes get scrambled here and there, but I thought Councillor Burbach’s statement supporting the proposed project was the most comprehensive, and I am using it here to outline the arguments of Council, balanced with comments from citizens who spoke at the meeting (in italics).

  • PRO: Removal of greenhouse gases will have local and global benefit. We would be protecting our children’s future.
    Ann Carbert: we must reduce emissions to 45% and achieve carbon neutrality by 2050.
    Donna Sobura: What is included in the carbon reduction footprint? (fuel, oil, expelled gases, deteriorated concrete)
    Louise McColl: supports the project, time is running out. This is not new technology, it’s in use in Europe.
    .
  • PRO: Project fits in with Council’s strategic plan of last year, commitment to move to zero waste.
    Bob Verdun: pollution issues are not addressed
    .
  • PRO: We would be upgrading infrastructure. We have a city asset that will need to be upgraded in the near future. This project allows us to do that now.
    Louise McColl: cost is concerning, but will be quickly recouped
    .
  • PRO: This will be a revenue-generating project that in the end will pay for itself, by taking in waste from other municipalities. When we move away from natural gas technology in 10-15 years, we’ve paid for the project and probably generated revenue as well.
    Bob Verdun: has concerns about the reliability of the waste disposal industry. Why the rush on this project?
    Dorothy Van Esbroeck: questions the economics of the project.
    Kirk Roberts: concerned that he has not seen the business plan, claims he has been denied access under the Municipal Freedom of Information and Privacy act as a third party is involved.
    .
  • PRO: We will extend the life of our landfill, and save on the cost of exporting green waste elsewhere.
    Bob Verdun: unwise to import green waste. City has not seriously considered garburators, which could feed green waste into the system.
    Donna Sobura: what are the measures used to recognize whether the project is working?

  • CON: Location in a flood plain, next to a river. This was poor planning 70 years ago, but the costs of moving the plant would be astronomical. Councillor Burbach stated that experts have assured Council that the level of risk at the facility would remain the same whether the project goes ahead or not. She recommends upgrades to infrastructure (upgrade of West Gore).
    Blaize Monostory: the sewage plant emits toxic substances into the Avon River and has caused medical problems
    COUNCIL RESPONSE: Our treatment plant does not emit toxins.
    .
  • CON: Truck traffic. As someone who lives less than 50 meters from Huron Street, Councillor Burbach is very aware of the pressing traffic and safety issues. She proposed some remedies that should be implemented whether the project goes ahead or not. (Traffic buffers, section of 3-lane road, short-term parking lane, landscaping.)
    Donna Sobura: the number of trucks will rise as the processing escalates.
    Lloyd Lichti: increased traffic and the project itself will devalue property. Should relocate the facility.

The discussion will be continued at the regular Council meeting on January 13, including:

  • whether a 20-year agreement with FortisBC can be guaranteed;
    (The city has had preliminary discussions with FortisBC, and could enter into an agreement to be a supplier.)
  • whether Ontario Clean Water Agency is willing to invest more than $1.5 million due to the increase in capital cost for this project;
    (Capital costs will be approximately $22.7 million.)
  • confirmation that additional capital costs do not impact the City or any future Municipal Service Corporation;
  • a cost estimate for the construction of a private access road to the back of the plant for trucks to exit;
  • confirmation that there will be available organics for the project for at least 10 years.

All in all, it was pretty inspiring to see so many people turn up to participate in local democracy. The meeting was very well run, although some of the citizen questions remained unanswered. Perhaps this would be a good time to update the FAQ on the city website, which was written in July. Hopefully we will have a good turnout on the 13th.


EDIT: The original version of this post credited the Council statement to Councillor Ingram, when it was actually Councillor Burbach who spoke. My apologies to both councillors for the error.

Beginnings

Just as I came into the Stratford Goodwill last week, I saw a young woman buying a bridal dress. She was a pretty woman, with a nice smile, and seemed delighted to have found the right dress. It made me feel just extraordinarily happy to see a young person who understands what’s important in life. No hype—not the label, not the fancy store, just a nice dress to mark the beginning of a life together. I hope they have a great party. I hope she recycles the dress.

We are afraid of the future these days. At the mildest level, this shows up as a general crankiness, and a tendency to call people names on Facebook. As we become more aware, our fears manifest as anxiety and grief. At the most extreme level, there’s a large chunk of people actively planning for the collapse of society.

But here’s this young woman, cheerfully and resolutely buying her wedding dress. At Goodwill. Some people just won’t give up on life.  

Mazel tov.

What Maude Barlow Told Me

On Wednesday I drove into Guelph for the Maude Barlow talk, and it was certainly worth the trip. There were over 300 people there, and all of them were energized: they hooted, they stomped, and they sang encouraging songs. I felt like a real little country mouse in the middle of all that enthusiasm.

The reason they were all so happy is that Guelph just had a major battle over corporate control of local water this spring. With help from the Council of Canadians, citizens of Guelph Eramosa Township opposed a floating glass plant that would have used a minimum of 560 million litres of water each year from the aquifer. And in spite of the fact that citizens didn’t have adequate notice of the plan, in spite of the fact that, as they were told, it was already a “done deal,” they fought it and won.

Now, maybe you had heard about this, but I hadn’t, and it made me think about how important it is that we share the good news as well as the bad. Bad news can make people angry; unfortunately, most of the time it makes us want to curl up with a carton of Rocky Road ice cream until it all goes away. But it doesn’t go away. It won’t go away unless somebody does something about it.

Maude Barlow is the living definition of the term “small but mighty.” When she got up to talk, she did speak of many sad things that are happening to the Canadian environment. She talked about what we have lost, but she also talked about how to win. She said that the way you know you’re winning is that things look downright impossible. People are throwing bricks at you, and the road ahead looks too steep to climb. All you can do is just keep walking, she said, and that’s when you win.

One of the things I took away from this meeting was a new understanding of the word “aquifer.” If you’re like me, you probably learned in school that water is limitless: you use it up, or it goes through the rivers and oceans, it evaporates, and more rains down. The excess goes underground, to the aquifer, and it will never run out. As we’re now learning every day in the news, that’s wrong. Not only can an aquifer be drained (look at India for the most terrifying example) it can also be contaminated, as it has been in many places, due to fracking and other polluting activities. Politicians often try to scare us, telling is that if we want jobs we have to consent to this pollution. Don’t believe it.

I got to talk to Maude after the meeting. I wanted to thank her for all her hard work. She’s been at this for over thirty years, and that’s a long time to be walking up a road that’s too steep to climb. I was surprised when she thanked me instead. She said that it is sometimes very tempting to say that you’ve had enough, that you’d rather just sit and watch the grandchildren, but when you learn how much you’ve made a difference in people’s lives, you just can’t stop.

I guess that’s a good lesson about saying thank you.

If you want to learn more about Maude Barlow and Canada’s water crisis, I recommend her books. They are a plain-spoken explanation of the causes of the Canadian water crisis, and a roadmap on how to deal with it. Here are the two most recent:

Boiling Point: Government Neglect, Corporate Abuse, and Canada’s Water Crisis

In Boiling Point, bestselling author and activist Maude Barlow lays bare the issues facing Canada’s water reserves, including long-outdated water laws, unmapped and unprotected groundwater reserves, agricultural pollution, industrial-waste dumping, boil-water advisories, and the effects of deforestation and climate change

Blue Future: Protecting Water for People and the Planet Forever

The final book in Maude Barlow’s Blue trilogy, Blue Future is a powerful, penetrating, and timely look at the global water crisis — and what we can do to prevent it.

Keep Your Recycling Clean

Chief Security Officer and Assistant Recycling Inspector

There was interesting link posted in the Stratford Free Press Facebook Group today, leading to a CBC article about the dangers of sloppy recycling. In case you didn’t read it, here are the high points:

Problems:

  • contamination dramatically increases recycling costs
  • even a few spoonfuls of peanut butter or a gob of yogurt left in a jar can contaminate a tonne of paper
  • even a coffee stain can make a sheet of paper unrecyclable
  • many places can’t recycle black plastic
  • dirtiest cities are Toronto and Edmonton, where contamination rates can be up to 25%

Solutions:

  •  better sorting regulations. Clean cities like St. John’s and Vancouver sell their recyclables at a higher price, because they have stricter rules
  • change the list of accepted items
  • upgrade plants
  • educate residents

This all sounds good to me, but I notice the article didn’t say much about other ways of dealing with what we discard. Maybe we should tell our provincial and municipal representatives that we support them in their efforts to reduce waste. Maybe we should look for alternatives to disposables. And maybe we should stop meekly accepting purchases wrapped in toxic, non-recyclable plastic that cuts your fingers when you try to open them.

Or maybe we should do what these people did:

There are microfibres in your beer

You need more than “the touch test” to find ethical clothing

This week I attended a workshop on microfibre pollution hosted by The Bus Store Bookshop at  LifeSpin in London. The workshop was designed by the Synthetic Collective, a group from Western University, and presented by Kristy Robertson, who teaches there. I hadn’t planned to do another post on clothing for a while, as there are other subjects I want to cover. I’m really encouraged, though, by the amount of interest there is in this topic. It just keeps coming up, wherever I turn.

When I first got the notice I thought, “A workshop? Really? Can’t they just e-mail me the info?” But I made the trip anyway, and I’m glad I did, because you really did need to be there, to touch and see the fabrics. We started off by trying to find an article of clothing we could be sure wasn’t harmful to the environment. Predictably, we failed. The most common reason was the presence of microfibres, tiny synthetic particles found in most clothing that we buy. When clothing is washed, these particles are shed, and they are everywhere; in water, in the air, in the food chain, and yes, even in Black Swan Porter (my personal favourite). You can’t see them, but they’re there.

The bad news:

  • Damage to environment: Microplastics are everywhere, making up 85% of manmade debris found on shorelines worldwide (I’m pretty sure you know this already). Microfibres are the smallest microplastic particles, and ride on the ocean, just under the surface, as floating goo.
  • Remediation is difficult: Most sewage treatment plants can capture microplastics, but microfibres are too small. There are filters that can be added to a washload, but again, microfibres are too small for them.
  • Harm for humans: We have no idea what this means for our health. The studies just aren’t there. This means that we can’t legislate against them.

The good news:

  • Front-loading washers shed fewer microfibres
  • Wool, silk and flax are best clothing choices, but watch out for dyes. Support knowledgeable clothing stores.
  • Used clothing has already had many of the microfibres washed out, so if you must buy a synthetic, try a consignment store.

Future actions:

  • Advocate for wastewater treatment reform
  • Support regulation for washing machine retrofits
  • Alter our washing machine use. No unnecessary washing, seek out better filters.
  • Look for biodegradables when shopping (not just clothing: linens, curtains, mops, cleaning accessories)

All in all, it was a great trip, and I’m really impressed with the Synthetic Collective. They have this great idea of putting their materials together in a slideshow that will be made available for community groups to use on their own. Anybody interested in doing one here in Stratford?