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Residents push council to scrap biogas project

Even as residents were making a stink about a proposed green-energy plant in Elmira, the company behind the bid was dealing with some issues of its own as Woolwich reversed course on the site’s zoning.

While the biogas facility isn’t yet on council’s agenda, concerned residents made a preemptive appeal Tuesday night to halt a plan by Woolwich Bio-En Inc. to build a cogeneration unit on Martin’s Lane in the north end of town.

To date, the matter remains in the hands of the Ministry of the Environment, as Woolwich had deemed the project to conform to the industrial zoning on the proposed site. Now, however, the planning department believes the facility might be in conflict with the dry-industrial designation after learning from the MOE that Bio-En could use up to 12 million litres of water each year.

The township is currently seeking legal advice, with a report due back before councillors by Mar. 31.

If the township maintains its position, Bio-En would have to apply for a zone change to continue with plans to build at the site. The proposed $12-million plant would take in organic waste, pass it through a biodigester to create methane and then fuel generators to create 2.8 megawatts of electricity – enough to power 2,200 homes – and steam heat that could be sold to neighbouring industries.

Land-use compatibility issues were at the heart of Ron Ormson’s appeal to councillors to stop the bid. The long-serving member of the Chemtura Public Advisory Committee (CPAC) said the town doesn’t need another source of odour complaints, saying the waste-processing facility would inevitably have odour problems.

That assertion was shared by four others who addressed council; they were joined by about a dozen others who listened in the audience.

“If you see something happening, something that’s being built that could have or may have or will have [odour issues], we don’t want to see it,” said Charles Street resident Jerry Heidburt.

Having worked at Rothsay, the rendering company that once operated in Elmira, and being involved with CPAC for the past decade, he said he knows all about odour problems.

Elmira’s history – rendering, Uniroyal/Chemtura, the pet food plant and the like – is full of such issues, many of which took ages to address.

“We don’t want to go back to where we were 40 years ago. We just don’t want to go back. We want to be ahead of it and say, ‘no thanks, don’t do it again.’”

While Bio-En was not surprised about neighbourhood concerns, the township’s about-face adds another hurdle in the process.

The company must now decide if it will press the issue of water use with the township or start the zone-change application.

“Not certain that we agree with that change of opinion,” said Bio-En Power Inc. president Chuck Martin in an interview. “Hopefully they will reconsider their opinion.”

Because its anaerobic digester uses water as an input and not as part of the processing, Bio-En expects to make little if any demands on municipal services: Water will come from rainwater and runoff collection, as well as from water extracted from the process itself, he explained.

“We do not require water and we do not require sewer services.”

In its application to the Ministry of the Environment, the company is seeking to use up to 12 million litres of water annually. As well, the facility would handle up to 750 tonnes of organic material daily, though the average would be about 245 tonnes, Martin said.

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  1. ““If you see something happening, something that’s being built that could have or may have or will have [odour issues], we don’t want to see it,” said Charles Street resident Jerry Heidburt.”

    In a few years he will be complaining about how all the young people have to leave town to find jobs. The company should know that there are other communities that would be happy to have those jobs brought to their area.

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