Lately I’ve been trying to wrap my head around an amount of money that is unfathomable to me. Four hundred and fifty million dollars just sounds like a bazillion. I have no regular life comparisons and neither does my old-school calculator that can’t even register that high a number. Since I have no perspective on this amount it becomes a child-like exaggeration. If 450 million dollars sounds familiar, it’s because it is the proposed price tag for the Pontiac garbage incinerator, also known as the “Waste-to-energy” plant proposed for Litchfield. And if you think the gargantuan price tag is all that separates regular folks from this proposal, there is also the idea out there that it will be built with “free money.” One hundred and eighty million dollars from some nice un-named investors with only our best interests at heart, and $270 million from different levels of government. That might seem like free money, but it’s actually your taxes. Additionally, let’s not forget about the potential costs to our air, water, environmental health.
These large amounts of money actually work to the advantage of multi-national corporations as regular folks never operate within these realms of high finances. Talking millions or billions is for the experts and these so-called experts are counting on us to think so.
Can we justify such a huge purchase? Well, 12 of the 18 mayors seem to want to put some skin in the game by voting to go ahead with a business plan that will hopefully give us some answers to burning questions rooted in the assumption that the Pontiac actually has a big garbage problem that needs a big solution. Pontiac has no more of a garbage problem than does Chelsea or La Pêche. We are a population of just under 15,000 that produces 5,000 tonnes of waste per year, currently without even a composting program. The government of Quebec has mandated composting here in the Pontiac, and when it comes into action, it will bring down that tonnage by at least 30 per cent.
So why are we considering this proposal? Aha! This is a garbage business proposal. We are being offered a business venture into garbage incineration. Do we want to be in the business of garbage? I’m willing to bet this business plan that we’ve invested $120,000 of our Pontiac money is like a train that has already left the station. It will be used to garner participation from the big cities. I’m sure this so-called business plan will not find a zero or net loss in any of it’s projections if the accounting company writing it up is supplied with all the data it needs by the corporation that will be selling this beast to us. The catch will be that we need another 395,000 tonnes per year of garbage from the other cities to see any kind of a profit. Given this, will anyone really care about the philosophies of reduce, reuse and recycle anymore, or will we just be “feeding the beast” to make that bottom line? Dang it, and all those cans, jars and plastic containers that I have been cleaning and sending to the recycle.
Personally, I wish we could just carry on with the regular waste issues that any small community faces these days. Take this opportunity to find local solutions to local problems and encourage everyone to seek out innovative and creative answers for the Pontiac’s unique waste management needs. We don’t need to wreck our beautiful Pontiac air, land and water over this expensive garbage deal.
Finally, I got myself a new-school calculator and got down to doing a bit of math. So, for the sake of perspective, here are a few things that $450 million dollars equates to:
- 657 nurses and/or doctors salaries for the next 10 years at the Shawville Hospital
- 12,867 brand new Honda Civics (1 for everyone in the Pontiac with a drivers’ license)
- 750 assisted care rooms for the citizens of our community for the next 20 years
- free school lunches for every student in the Pontiac for the next 300 years
- 225 veterinarian’s salaries for the next 20 years (for all you Farmers out there)
- 59 indoor swimming pools
Given our current economic climate we might want to look at our priorities regarding this $270 million dollar expenditure of our hard-earned taxes. Let’s not waste any more energy on the “business” of waste-to-energy’.
Friends of the Pontiac, a grass-roots citizen advocacy group, is hosting an in-person meeting on Thurs., Nov. 16 at 7 p.m. at the Thorne Municipal building in Ladysmith. If you are an interested citizen of the Pontiac who wants to support environmentally-friendly alternative solutions to our waste problems, you are welcome to join us and meet other like-minded neighbours.
Christine Anderson, Thorne
In response to Warden Jane Toller’s letter (Clarify and Reassure, THE EQUITY Oct. 25, 2023), we ask: what did she clarify or reassure citizens of?
Despite various concerns raised by the public regarding the health and environmental hazards of transporting and burning 400,000 tons of garbage, council is steamrolling ahead without addressing many of them. We hope to highlight some of the key questions that remain unanswered and shed light on the potential risks associated with the proposed waste-to-energy facility.
- Disposal of Hazardous Ash: Warden Toller claims that residual ash will not be landfilled, though typically it is. Considering the unstable and hazardous nature of this ash, it is crucial to understand the disposal methods and potential impact on the environment and public health, especially while Lachute does not accept hazardous waste. We also cannot ignore the fact that we would be left with 25 times more tonnage of waste to dispose of than is produced in the region.
- Health and Environmental Risks: Another very pressing concern is the amount of plastics that will be burned. Incinerating plastics is one of the highest greenhouse gas emitting forms of energy production, emitting 3.8 times more emissions than the energy grid average and is actually a dirtier source of energy than coal and oil, making it a significant contributor to environmental changes. Emissions contain many carcinogenic chemicals such as dioxins and furans, mercury, lead, carbon monoxide, nitrogen oxides, arsenic, PCBs and PAHS, which will be released into the air, water and soil despite technological advances, as found by various studies across Europe. The proximity of various important waterways that would potentially be contaminated from such emissions is also an issue. Not to mention the various homes in the vicinity of the proposed incineration site. Therefore making it crucial to fully understand the potential consequences of such a decision and why the council has chosen to ignore these known hazards in favour of moving forward.
- Infrastructure Impact: The warden claims that the daily hauling of garbage by 35-40 large trucks will have no impact on the current infrastructure, citing previous industry practices. However, considering the existing need for repairs on Highway 148, it is essential to assess the potential strain on infrastructure and whether it will be adequately addressed.
- Municipal Benefits: It is important to evaluate the benefits that municipalities would derive from burning garbage. Will this approach reduce or increase residents’ municipal bills? Additionally, what impact will it have on hydro bills? Without clear answers, it becomes challenging to make informed decisions or assess the true value of this proposed plan.
- International Trends: While the rest of the world is actively working towards a circular economy and reducing reliance on incineration, the proposed plan seems to be moving in the opposite direction. With Wales and Scotland imposing moratoriums on new incineration facilities and the large decline in the number of WTE facilities in the U.S., it is important to question why the MRC Pontiac is choosing a path that goes against global trends.
- Alternative Solutions Overlooked: The warden and mayors who voted in support of further pursuing this project have been promoting certain technologies and companies without exploring other viable and less expensive solutions. This raises questions about the transparency and thoroughness of the decision-making process. Is the council truly considering all options, or are they simply fixated on a predetermined solution?
Questionable Claims and Precedents: Toller’s claims that the air coming out of the stack is cleaner than the air we breathe, that there will be no health risks or environmental impacts from burning 400,000 tons of garbage and plastics are preposterous. While she denies any connection, existing incinerator studies have already proven otherwise. It is therefore unreasonable and extremely irresponsible to claim or guarantee the absence of health risks or environmental issues, especially when all the evidence contradicts such claims. The potential release of cancer-causing toxins and the dangers of burning forever-chemicals (PFAS) must be taken into account, especially when studies have indicated toxic chemicals thousands of miles away from WTE facilities.
Copenhagen Incinerator Case Study: Drawing attention to the Copenhagen incinerator highlights the potential risks and failures associated with waste-to-energy facilities. Despite being hailed as state-of-the-art technology, this facility has faced numerous financial and technical issues requiring several bailouts. It has locked the city and residents into a 30-year loan negatively impacting the city’s finances, as well as perpetuating private sector job loss. It is crucial to assess the long-term implications and financial burdens associated with such projects.
In conclusion, it is time to put an end to the propaganda and demand the truth. With six mayors and over 500 citizens expressing their opposition, the potential health, environmental, and financial risks associated with this waste management plan cannot be ignored. We need factual answers to many vitally important questions and concerns before proceeding any further. Clarifications and reassurances should not be empty words; they should be backed by evidence and a genuine commitment to the well-being of the community and the environment.
Amy Taylor, Chapeau
Thank you for the article (Enough is Enough THE EQUITY, Nov. 1, 2023).
I need the hard-copy because computer communication is very difficult for me over 90.
Rev. Mary McDowell Wood, Shawville
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