Friday, July 12, 2024

That dog won’t hunt

With turnouts of 70, 100 and 150 people at MRC Pontiac's first three public meetings on the incinerator business case, it's clear that the issue has provided a rallying point that has brought people together from one end of the county to the other in common cause.
As the warden has observed, it is good to see so many people engaging around the issue of municipal waste.
And it is clear the meetings are providing a useful public service, as we have already learned a few things we didn’t know before.
One is that the 5,000 tons of garbage we produce here each year would be replaced by at least 60,000 tons of ash, some experts say 100,000 tons, much of it toxic, left behind after burning 400,000 tons of mostly other people’s garbage.
Another is that the overwhelming majority of any profits would go to the major partners in the $825,000,000 project, with vanishingly little staying in the Pontiac, given our relatively tiny investment of $120,000.
And, if the project were to create the 50 promised jobs, that would be considerably fewer than if we were to run our own county-wide recycling and composting program, which would also reduce our 5,000 tons to under 2,000.
Looking at these basic findings, it seems fairly obvious that the incinerator idea doesn’t really fit here. It's a solution looking for a problem we don’t have, poised to add new problems we don’t want. And it’s occupying space in our meeting halls, newspaper pages and conversations needed to address the real challenges and opportunities where we could make a positive contribution to Pontiac’s future.
About 18 years ago, when our warden was a city councillor in Toronto running to become mayor, she advocated for adoption by the city of an energy-from-waste facility, much as she is doing now. One significant difference is that Toronto had a densely-packed population of about two million people which produced about a million tons of garbage each year. But the idea was rejected even there, so it is very difficult to understand why it should be given any serious consideration in a rural setting where a mere 14,000 people dispersed over a vast geography produces a paltry 5,000 tons of garbage per year.
After a $120,000 investment in developing the business case for why this is a good idea, the case for why we should accept it has yet to be made. But however obvious it is that we should now cease to invest any further time, effort or resources in this project, it is far from certain that this is going to happen.
A recommendation made by Deloitte and Ramboll in their initial business case that a second, more extensive business case be produced is currently under consideration. As reported in our front page story this week, the warden says that when the mayors received the report, there was a consensus at the table that they were pleased with the work that had been done, which she interprets as acceptance of the report’s recommendations, including the need to produce a second business case.
Though the warden has confirmed that Pontiac mayors are unwilling to spend any more money on the development of any more business cases, her sights are set on securing the needed funds from another source. The estimated cost of the second business case is between $250,000 and $300,000, more than double the cost of the first one.
Multiple municipalities have recently reversed their earlier support of the incinerator project or reaffirmed their earlier opposition. If any of them intend to see the end of the incinerator project, they may need to go further and make a proactive, pre-emptive move by passing a resolution at the Council of Mayors table to dispel any notion that Pontiac is a willing host for Ottawa Valley’s garbage and put an end to this project once and for all.
This certainly seems to be the hope of almost everybody who has attended the public information sessions convened by the warden and mayors so far.
It’s true, nothing in recent memory has brought people together and built a sense of common purpose across the Pontiac like the incinerator issue. Let’s hope we can close this chapter soon so we can move on and channel our shared concern about the future of this place into something that is a better response to our needs, something that takes the Pontiac to the next level, something we can all feel proud of.


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