Landfill hearing in Powell River: More democracy in action

By Denise Reinhardt
(Updated April 24, 2009)

Where it all begins...

Where it all begins...

Next week, people in Powell River have an extraordinary chance to hear why Catalyst Paper and the BC Ministry of Environment (MoE) think there should be a huge flyash dump at the top of the Wildwood hill. The Environmental Appeal Board is holding a hearing to decide whether the permit amendment issued to Catalyst on August 6, 2008 — which allowed the flyash dump to grow nine stories tall in a residential neighbourhood — should be rescinded or modified. It’s a public hearing, so everyone interested in the future of our region should turn out for at least part of the hearing, which will run from 9:00 am till late afternoon from Monday, April 20, through Friday, April 24 at the Town Centre Hotel.

Powell River Legacy is the community group that has opposed the massive expansion of the flyash dump ever since it was proposed. PR Legacy members and other people in the Powell River community were worried about the possible health effects of airborne flyash from dump operations and the possible escape of toxic materials from an old dump that would lie under the new flyash mountain. Community members had many other concerns about living next door to a huge contaminated industrial waste dump. Despite their opposition, the BC Ministry of the Environment’s Director, Environmental Management Act, issued the permit amendment allowing 620,000 cubic metres of flyash, waste asbestos and miscellaneous mill waste to be dumped over the course of 25 years.

Two members of Powell River Legacy, Dennis Bremner and David Harris, appealed for themselves and for PR Legacy; three other citizens, Patricia Picken, Rhonda Alton and Dr. J. Andrew Davis, are presenting their own appeals. PR Legacy’s lawyer will argue that the amended permit will not adequately protect the environment and that the mill’s financial situation compels the Ministry to require Catalyst to post a bond for cleanup costs in the event that it stops operating a paper and pulp mill in Powell River. Picken, Alton and Davis will point to the impacts on the community, especially health impacts, and ask why the amendment was issued. Catalyst will try to justify the permit amendment by presenting the testimony of its environmental experts, and the people who decided to issue the permit amendment will testify for the Ministry. The appellants will have the chance to cross-examine these witnesses.

There are questions about how effective this appeal may be, but the hearing is the community’s only chance to hear the decision-makers and experts explain themselves. It is our only chance to hear how the MoE and Catalyst witnesses answer our friends and neighbours, who will ask why they consider this flyash dump safe and appropriate. Although much of the proceedings will seem formalized and bloodless, there will be moments of great importance when our friends and neighbours will speak out to the government about why there should not be a mountain of flyash and other industrial waste in Wildwood.

The hearing will probably run all day continuously, with lunch and other breaks at unpredictable intervals. We won’t know the exact schedule of witnesses until the hearing is underway but, if you come on Monday morning, you may hear a rough schedule, so you can plan when to come. Also, Monday will almost certainly be the day that Bremner, Alton, Picken and Davis will testify and be cross-examined by Catalyst and the MoE, and you’ll want to hear what they have to say. Otherwise, drop in for a few moments when you can.

So stop by when you can. Maybe you will catch a great moment, and you will certainly be giving support to PR Legacy and the community.

Update (April 24, 2009): With permission from Powell River Legacy, I have posted the PowerPoint presentation they made to Powell River City Hall on March 20, 2009. The file can be found here.

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