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Both sides try to bridge biogas divide

Call it an attempt to clear the air. The group opposed to plans for a biogas facility in Elmira’s north end invited the company behind the bid to present its side directly to concerned residents.

The Elmira Bio Fuel Citizen’s Committee has been holding weekly strategy meetings at the Woolwich Memorial Centre. On Wednesday night, more than 80 people showed up to hear Bio-En Power Inc. president Chuck Martin’s take on the proposal.

Opponents also vented their concerns about potential truck traffic and odour problems related to the project.
In addressing the group, Martin said he wanted to set the record straight, tackling the various claims floating about, including those in a flyer distributed this summer by the committee.

Ed Speers

“I think it’s very important to make sure that we get the correct information out, that we are all talking about the same issues,” he explained.

Bio-En plans to create electricity by converting organic waste into methane to power a generator. Materials such as livestock manure, food waste, used cooking oils and other fats will be fed into anaerobic digester, creating the fuel for the process. The $12-million facility would generate 2.8 megawatts of renewable electricity – enough to power 2,200 homes – and 3.4 mW of heat.

During his presentation he emphasized that the maximum annual output of a plant of this magnitude is 70,000 metric tonnes per year, adding up to an average of 7.5 trucks to be traveling to and from the site each day.

“The number 80 trucks daily is what I have been hearing,” he said. “But the figure of 80 trucks per day was an absolute maximum. It was the number we gave which would allow for the emptying of residual tanks, something that would only happen on very rare occasions, not on your average day.”

Tackling the issue of odour, another proponent of the biogas facility stressed that operators will want to capture odours rather than let them escape.

“Our job is odour control,” said Derek Webb of Biorem Technologies. “If we are doing our jobs correctly, we will be eliminating odours, rather than creating them.”

Opponents, however, weren’t easily convinced, continuing to express their fears.

“They want to put material in there [the facility] that gives them the most bang for their buck. The smellier input is good for energy but it’s not good for stink,” said opposition representative Jerry Heidburt. “An odour is not just an annoyance, it’s a threat. People get afraid when they smell odours. They wonder if it’s just an odour or it it’s more than that.”

Michael Purves-Smith and his wife live on Arthur Street and have noticed an increase in truck traffic over the years.

“You will note that there is an unusual amount of vacant commercial space in the downtown area,” said Purves-Smith. “Please, no additional heavy truck traffic.”

The opposition group agreed that biogas is a renewable source of energy, but not that it is a ‘green’ source of energy.

“I am not sure that you can call something green if it requires fume-spewing trucks to transport the materials,” said Elmira resident Cindy Moser.

Discussion of the truck traffic issue led to the suggestion a truck bypass route be created around downtown Elmira. Others, including Martin, noted that measures for dealing with truck traffic are more appropriately dealt with by the municipality rather than with an individual company like Bio-En.

For some in attendance Wednesday night, the whole issue is reminiscent of past battles over development, including the King/86 power centre and the Tim Hortons restaurant in St. Jacobs.

“It seems to me that we have made a very strong statement that we are anti-development,” said Frey Building Contractors president Bert Frey. “As a business owner, do I want to be in a place that is resistant to change and development? If that’s the case, I will need to think about relocating and taking about 70 jobs with me.”

While not making any decisions about changes to the Bio-En plan, Martin agreed to look over the traffic studies from this past year to help determine the impact of the facility on township roads.

The spirit of cooperation was welcomed by the residents’ committee.

“I don’t think this is a dead-end,” said opposition group leader Dan Holt, “I don’t think that we can’t work together on it, in a cooperative way.”

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