Submitted by citizens’ group, Rail Ties Be Wise –

Anyone who lived in Williams Lake before 1993 can remember finding their car covered in fly ash from the beehive burners that used to dispose of wood waste from the local sawmills. Air quality has improved considerably since the power plant currently owned by Atlantic Power Corp. (AP) began using that wood waste to generate electricity for sale to BC Hydro.
Citizens unite against rail tie burning pollution in Williams Lake
A view of the Williams Lake airshed. Photo: Brandon Hoffman

Since then, the local forest industry has suffered a number of blows, notably the Mountain Pine Beetle infestation. As a result, much less biomass is available to fuel the plant’s boiler.

AP proposes to burn creosote-treated railroad ties to supplement wood waste from the remaining sawmills. The Province issued permit amendments allowing up to four million ties to be burned annually, and approving increased emissions of known toxins.

This is a controversial prospect to say the least, especially since abundant non-merchantable timber could be utilized instead, which would create more employment without toxic emissions.

Our concerns relate to numerous aspects of AP’s application:

• We are not confident that air quality can be maintained, especially during the frequent weather inversions that hold emissions in our valley bowl. As seniors, children, and those with respiratory diseases are especially vulnerable, the health of our community could significantly decline.

• We are especially concerned about the fact that AP is not required to post any clean-up funds in case of accident. In fact, if they default on cleanup in such an incident, then it seems likely that the City and/or BC taxpayers would have to foot the bill.

• Ash from burning treated wood like railroad ties is not the same as that from ordinary wood waste. The permit recognizes the potential for hazardous chemicals in the ash, yet allows AP to add it to the pile above Frizzi Road, very close to the river valley escarpment, which consists mainly of silt and sloughs frequently. The potential for contaminated ash to fall into the creek (and eventually the Fraser River) is extremely worrisome. Also, the ash pile has no liner beneath it and there is no reliable way to manage or measure contaminants that may leach from it.

• Who would want to move to a place where rail ties are burned right in town? We already have a shortage of professionals such as doctors, and we need to attract new families and business for our town to thrive.

• There is no social license in the community for making Williams Lake the railroad tie burning capital of Western Canada.

• Thirteen local stakeholders submitted formal legal appeals, voicing these concerns and pointing out weaknesses in the science underlying the approvals.

In September 2016, the citizens group, Rail Ties Be Wise was born to support those appeals and raise public awareness.

Environmental lawyer Erin Gray of Devlin Galius Westaway is working with us to ensure those appeals make a strong legal case. Grants from West Coast Environmental Law are partially covering lawyers’ fees. Our fundraising team is working hard to raise the balance and to hire expert consultants to testify at a hearing before the Environmental Appeal Board (EAB). We expect such hearings would take place sometime in the summer of 2017.

The Province has disputed our eligibility to be heard at the EAB and called our concerns irrelevant. They applied to strike Williams Lake residents’ appeals on the grounds that the appellants are “busy bodies” who will not be materially affected. At present, the EAB is allowing us to rebut.

If this news troubles you, we would love to hear from you. Join our Facebook page and email list ( for updates, and keep your eye on our website: You can send a letter from there to the entire Council of the City of Williams Lake expressing your concerns, and letting them know you’re worried about what this project could mean for you as a taxpayer if you reside in the City.

You can also support our efforts in several ways:
• Sign a petition at one of several supporting businesses
• Donate to help with legal expenses at or at the Williams Lake Credit Union.
• Watch for our Spring FUNraiser, now in the planning stages, or better yet volunteer to help the organizers

Just because no one asked us if we want this to happen, that doesn’t mean we have to take it lying down.


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