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Spence launches series of town hall presentations on incinerator project

by Charles Dickson
Allumette Island
Mar. 25, 2024
It was close to a capacity crowd at St. Joseph’s Hall in Allumette Island on Monday evening with almost 100 people in attendance for an information meeting on the garbage incinerator project proposed for the Pontiac.
The gathering was the first of a series of town hall-styled public information sessions to be convened across the Pontiac over the coming weeks. Announced by Pontiac warden Jane Toller just five days prior at last Wednesday evening’s public meeting of mayors, the hastily-called series follows a tide of public concern over the proposed project that has been growing over recent weeks.
Allumette Island mayor Corey Spence made the presentation on behalf of MRC Pontiac. He began by showing a series of videos on the circular economy and the zero-waste concept whereby waste can be minimized through the reduction of consumption, repairing and reusing products instead of disposing of them, and recycling materials, arriving at the conclusion that, with the addition of composting, municipal waste can be reduced by up to 90 per cent.
Spence provided a favourable review of points made by Dr. Paul Connett, one of the presenters at the public information session convened by Citizens of the Pontiac in Campbell’s Bay on Mar. 2, whose video, which is highly critical of garbage incineration, has been circulating locally via social media over recent weeks. The mayor provided an overview of how landfill and energy-from-waste systems work, before turning to a presentation of what has been called the initial business case (IBC) developed by consulting firms Deloitte and Ramboll. At this point, the presentation took the form of a rapid succession of text-intensive slides, with words far too numerous and too small to read from the audience, with Spence reading passages from the screen so quickly and without benefit of a microphone that it was often impossible to discern what he was saying.

What came through was that the essential question addressed by the IBC is how the energy-from-waste (EFW) option compares to disposing of garbage in landfills, based on a volume of 400,000 tons of waste. Spence took the audience through several points of comparison between the two waste management systems, including long-run cost and carbon neutrality, among others, from which the IBC analysis concluded that the EFW option was superior to a landfill.
The IBC also considered three options regarding the design, construction, operation and maintenance of the envisioned EFW plant, with implications for the extent to which the resulting facility would be privately versus publicly owned. On this question, the report recommends that the facility should neither be completely privately owned nor completely publicly owned but rather the goldilocks option of 75 per cent public and 25 per cent private. Fundamental to this conclusion is the requirement for hundreds of millions of dollars to finance the project, making it clear that very significant public investment will be necessary for the project to be viable.
According to the IBC, total capital costs for the facility, which would include the use of technology to capture carbon dioxide it produces, would be $605 million, 25 per cent more than the $450 million price previously envisioned for the project. Spence said this would obviously be an impossible expense for Pontiac’s population of just 14,000 people without multi-million-dollar grants from the federal government and the provinces of Quebec and Ontario.
He said if we start now, the facility could be up and running by 2032.
In the question-and-answer session that followed, Spence asked whether anyone knew why so many incinerators were being shut down in Europe, and said it’s because countries have moved to zero waste and the incinerators are too big for the volume of garbage now available.
He said that the 400,000-ton target used in planning Pontiac’s incinerator project might have been wrong, in light of the significant reduction in the volume of garbage being generated in Ottawa due to the adoption of zero waste strategies. Warden Jane Toller, who attended the meeting, said she had learned that Ottawa’s waste has gone from a volume of 300,000 tons per year to probably 100,000 tons.
Asked by Judith Spence of Citizens of the Pontiac whether there was any documentation still available of an effort by Denzil Spence, a previous mayor of Allumette Island, to launch a garbage incinerator project, Warden Toller recalled that in 2012 Pontiac had expressed to Gatineau its interest in an incinerator project but that the project was stopped due to insufficient waste.
When asked why Deloitte and Ramboll, working under a contract in excess of $100,000, was not redirected by MRC Pontiac to shift its analysis to a lower tonnage figure, Spence said something to the effect that the project was too far along to change course.
Linda Davis of the group Stop the Pontiac Incinerator asked how the question of whether or not to proceed with the EFW project can be decided until an environmental assessment has been completed, which, in the case of the Durham York facility, she says cost $29 million. Spence agreed and said that such an assessment would be conducted.
A woman who identified herself as a long-time farmer described toxins coming out of incinerator smokestacks, landing on fields and being eaten by animals that we raise, and asked, “Why didn’t we start with an environmental assessment long before we began with the business case?”
Jordan Evans, farmer in Waltham, recalled Spence saying that remediation would be required as part of the project but that cleanup costs were not included in the IBC study, and asked, “How can you identify a winner without remediation costs?”
A woman from Thorne asked why the IBC basis of comparison is between incinerating 400,000 tons of garbage and landfilling the same volume, arguing that Pontiac produces only 5,000 tons of garbage each year and that it was never an option to landfill Ottawa’s 400,000 tons of garbage here.
Jennifer Quaile, a councillor in Otter Lake and member of Friends of the Pontiac, asked about the outcome of the warden’s recent meeting with the minister of environment, and whether he is receptive to bringing Ontario’s garbage into Quebec. The warden said “Waste from Ontario is not allowed if it is destined to a landfill, nor do they support incineration if it is just burned into the air, that it must be part of a circular economy.”
The turnout of some 100 people to Monday evening’s information session follows the attendance of approximately 40 people at last Wednesday’s meeting of MRC Pontiac’s Council of Mayors to voice their concerns regarding the environmental and health implications of the proposed incinerator, among other aspects of the project. In response, Warden Toller provided assurances that “MRC Pontiac will never move forward with a project that is unhealthy for our residents, animals, or environment.”
At last week’s Council of Mayors meeting, Linda Davis asked why the Deloitte/Ramboll business plan is not being released. “We’ve paid for it, why will you not allow us to have that?”
“It’s going to be available on a screen,” said Warden Toller, referring to the plan to project excerpts from the business plan on screens at the public information sessions.
“I don’t know that you’re going to be walking out with your own copy, but take good notes, you know, you can analyse it all you like,” the warden said.
In an interview aired by CHIP-FM last Thursday, reporter Caleb Nickerson asked the warden why the document was not being made publicly available.
“It’s very technical and some people are going to read it and not get much out of it,” Toller said.
“I think to have it presented and be able to have explanations and have questions answered is important,” she added.
Pressed by Nickerson on why the document could not be released, Toller asked him to turn off his recorder, which Nickerson declined to do. The warden later offered another response.
“This has been extremely challenging, with some information that has been given that has caused a lot of people to be fearful, and that is regrettable,” she said. “And we would like to reassure people with our information, and we would like the chance to have well-attended town hall meetings. If we just put it online and everybody reads it, nobody will be coming to the meetings.”
The other four town halls will be:

  • Mar. 27 - Fort Coulonge,
    Club de l’Age d’Or, 566 rue Baume
  • April 3 - Shawville,
    United Church Hall, 410 Main St.
  • April 9 - Campbell’s Bay,
    RA centre, 2 Second St.
  • April 10 - Otter Lake,
    RA centre, 394 Tessier St.

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