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Citizens’ group to challenge biogas

The township has taken a pass on the appeal process, but a biogas plant proposed for Elmira will be debated at the province’s Environmental Review Tribunal thanks to action launched by Elmira Bio Fuel Citizens’ Committee.

The Ministry of the Environment late last month approved a Bio-En Power Inc. plan to build a energy-generating facility on Martin’s Lane in Elmira’s north end. A 15-day appeal period started Mar. 26.

Opposed to the decision, the township nonetheless opted against challenging it based on legal advice. Addressing the issue at an Apr. 10 council meeting, director of engineering and planning Dan Kennaley said the narrow grounds for appeal made success unlikely. The township would have to prove the project would cause serious harm to human health and/or the environment.

All of the onus to provide expert witnesses and backing evidence would fall on the municipality, an expensive undertaking not likely to pay dividends, he explained of the process.

Mayor Todd Cowan, while agreeing with the decision to avoid an appeal, said he would continue to lobby provincial officials to move the facility elsewhere. He was disappointed when apparent deals to do that were eventually ignored by the province, with last month’s approval catching him off guard.

For Woolwich Bio-En president Chuck Martin, the option of moving is still on the table, but he is not optimistic about that outcome.

There are challenges to moving, he said. Having the Ontario Power Authority FIT (feed-in tariff) contract shifted is just the first, as there are land issues, grid capacity and financial details to be worked out at another location. Then there’s the timing. The plant has an in-service date of May 2014. A move would require the environment assessment and public input phases to start all over again, so that contract date would have to be shifted.

For now, he’s preparing for the appeal process before the ERT.

From the appeal documents he’s seen to date, the opposition’s argument is heavy on the impact of truck traffic, which he said isn’t really an issue for the tribunal.

Given that the area was home to a truck service at one point and much of the land is zoned for industrial use, truck traffic is an issue that has nothing to do with the biogas facility, which nearby residents fear could cause odour problems.
Traffic is an altogether different issue, he said.

“Our general point on the traffic is that it is much less than what used to be generated there.”

But even if there’s a quick resolution to the appeal process – the tribunal has a maximum of six months – it’s already too late to do more than some site preparation this year. The facility wouldn’t likely be operational until late 2013 at the soonest.

“Early 2014 is the most likely scenario,” said Martin.

Looking past the review, Coun. Mark Bauman would like to see some policing and enforcement guarantees from the MOE if the province pushes ahead with the Elmira location. Historically, the ministry has been seen as lax in its response to residents’ complaints, in particular with regard to issues at the Chemtura chemical plant that dragged on for years.

“Will this be another problem with the MOE we have in this town?”

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