By Sage Birchwater –
A group of Williams Lake residents is continuing the fight to prevent Atlantic Power Corporation from burning railway ties in its 600,000-tonne capacity biomass-fuelled energy plant in Williams Lake.
Since the Boston-based Atlantic Power Corporation announced its intention in June 2015 to seek permission from the British Columbia government for a ten-fold increase in the volume of railway ties it is allowed to burn in its Williams Lake power plant, this proposal has been met by a groundswell of outrage from the local population.
Despite keeping a low profile in the past several months, the ad hoc group Rail Ties Be Wise (RTBW), which formed to fight the rail tie burning application, has been meeting steadily.
The group organized several community meetings, circulated petitions, and enlisted the legal support of West Coast Environmental Law. At last count 1,450 residents of the area have signed petitions registering their opposition to the rail tie burning plan.
When the provincial government approved Atlantic Power Corporation’s permit to burn 50 per cent of its biofuels as rail ties in late 2016, several Williams Lake residents filed formal appeals over this decision within the 30-day time frame. The appeal will be heard later this year.
“We don’t want to become the rail tie burning capital of western Canada,” says RTBW vice-chair Angie Delainey. “We’re trying to inform the community that burning rail ties is not in the community’s best interest.”
RTBW chair Frances McCoubrey says members of her group are unified in their opposition to burning railway ties.
“There are too many unanswered questions around importing, processing, and burning millions of rail ties per year,” she says. “There is fear that burning rail ties will devalue and harm the health and quality of life in our community.”
Despite Atlantic Power’s assurance that negative effects from burning rail ties in its state-of-the-art facility will be minimal, McCoubrey says there is no way to guarantee no harm will come from burning rail ties until it is too late.
RTBW member Jenny Noble says the 2017 summer of wildfires was a wakeup call.
“Wildfires that caused the evacuation of Williams Lake in July came within a few kilometres of the energy plant,” she says.“If there were piles of railway ties stored onsite to fuel the power plant, it would have been a catastrophic emergency if those ties caught fire.”
Community members not part of the RTBW steering group are also opposed to burning rail ties.
Marcel Therrien and Phil Theriault, who work in the lumber industry for the joint-venture logging company Tsi Deldel Enterprises, say burning railway ties in the Atlantic Power energy plant is completely unnecessary.
Therrien says Atlantic Power Corporation’s argument to burn rail ties is no longer valid.
“Atlantic Power said they had to burn rail ties because there was insufficient biomass fibre in Williams Lake to support their facility,” he says. “After the wildfires of 2017 there is lots of fibre close to town. The excuse to burn rail ties is now off the table.”
RTBW member Rodger Hamilton is one of the appellants opposing the rail tie burning proposal. He says rail ties are treated with toxic preservatives which, when burned, would emit respiratory irritants like sulphur dioxide and hydrogen chloride into our airshed.
“Atlantic Power Corporation’s health risk contractor predicted that the respiratory irritants mixture will exceed health guidelines near the plant during poor venting conditions,” says Hamilton.
For the latest updates on Rail Ties Be Wise, visit the railtiesbewise.ca website or look for Rail Ties – Be Wise on Facebook.