If you were unclear if opponents to the proposed Biogas plant in Elmira planned on making their concerns an election issue, organizers arranged a mayoral and Ward 1 debate Wednesday evening to settle the question. Candidates were given the opportunity to answer questions and express their opinions on the proposed biogas facility in Elmira.
Some 70 people turned out at the Woolwich Memorial Centre to listen to mayoral candidates Pat McLean and Todd Cowan, along with Ward 1 councillor candidates Julie-Anne Herteis, Ruby Weber, and Jim David. Bill Strauss was absent from the meeting.
Each candidate was allotted a three-minute opening statement, and a one-minute closing statement, with a formal Q & A session in between. Much of the discussion was focused on concerns that have been raised in the past, mainly increased truck traffic and the proposed location of the biogas plant north of the downtown core.
In her opening statement, mayoral candidate Pat McLean expressed her support for the community action trying to raise awareness around the biogas site, and the concerns associated with it. “I believe community members can make a difference. I think it’s probably one of the more effective means around this issue.”
She went on to say that alternative energy in Ontario is the future, and the province has already expressed its interest in pursuing green, renewable energy. She said that the municipality has little choice over the final decision on the biogas plant.
“The province, for their own reasons, decided to take over approvals for all of these alternate energy projects,” she said.
“Whether I like it or I don’t like it, it’s a fact of life,” she said about the Ontario Green Energy Act. “I can spend my time fighting it or I can try and get the best possible for this community. If elected mayor, I will be following this application closely.
Fellow mayoral candidate Todd Cowan had a different view on that subject, however.
“Do I think the deal is done?” he asked. “Do I think we have no influence and no say? Of course not. Council could have been a little more proactive, a little more visionary. They could have taken a leadership role here, not let the pot simmer to the state it is at right now.”
He also expressed frustration that current members of council have not been in consultation with the office of the Minister of the Environment. “We’re elected to represent the people of Woolwich Township, not to sit and have meeting after meeting and say ‘it is what it is’ I’m sorry but it’s not like that.”
Councillor Weber was blunt when asked for her position on the biogas facility, stating that since the province has jurisdiction over the decision, it is out of her hands.
“I will not have the opportunity as a councillor to vote on this particular issue,” she said, “but what will I do?
Anyone who knows me knows that if you have an issue, regardless of what it is, if you call me I will help you solve it, and I will continue to do it.”
Weber did, however, explain to the public some of the benefits that the biogas plant will provide to the area, such as creating jobs in the area, generating energy and heat that could be sold to existing industries.
The two newcomers to the election race, Julie-Anne Herteis and Jim David, were relatively quiet for much of the night, and due to their uncertainty with how the municipality works, they were unclear on what they could do to help solve the problems the biogas facility presents in the community.
“I know little or nothing about this problem, other than what I’ve read in the paper,” said David in his opening statement. “The only thing I can recommend is all the parties get together; council, the province, concerned citizens and try and come up with some recommendations to alleviate some of the concerns.”
“I don’t know what I can do when I get to council until I get there,” said Herteis. “I’ll work my best to get things done, that’s what I do. As for Bio-En […] hopefully we can move it to another location […] I’m of the understanding that they should have gone to the ministry a lot sooner or had meetings like this months ago.”
There is another biogas meeting scheduled for Wednesday, September 22 at 6:30 p.m. at the WMC, and Chuck Martin, the president of Bio-En, has been asked to make a presentation outlining his company’s plan for the site, and to respond to any concerns the public might have.