It might have happened on an evening before a long weekend, and in a different ward than the proposed project — but close to 100 neighbourhood residents still came out Thursday to voice their concerns over a new waste to energy plant in Hamilton.

“Everybody here is truly, strongly against it,” said Sherman neighbourhood resident Susie Meszaros from the public consultation meeting held at the Museum of Steam and Technology.  “We’re trying to clean Barton Street and that area up. We’re trying to get rid of the bad and bring in the good — bring in young families. They may not have a lot of money, but they’re trying to change things one step at a time.”

“This just puts a damper on it because no one is going to want to move there.”

Many people bemoaned the meeting’s location — not only for being held outside of the ward where the project is being held, but also for its logistics. It was cramped, had almost no parking, and fell far short of Meszaros’ expectations. Many residents told CBC Hamilton they expected a formal, sit-down meeting with a question and answer period. Instead, a few dozen signs with information about the project were displayed in the museum with a few employees wandering about answering questions.

'I thought we were moving to medical sciences and a performing visual arts centre — that’s what I thought this city was becoming.' - Lorna Bryan

“It’s just billboards and three people answering questions, and one of them didn’t even know how to answer them correctly,” Meszaros said. “I was expecting to sit down in a chair and have an actual presentation explaining things. I don’t think it’s right, the way they’re doing things.”

The proposal for a waste-to-energy “gasification” plant by Port Fuels and Material Services Inc. is suggested for development on Sherman Avenue, north of Burlington Street. The facility would use a gas plasma technology with extremely high temperatures to break down waste into its atomic elements and turn it into a gas that can be used in engines and turbines and as a substitute for natural gas.

Not an incinerator

The proposal isn’t for a traditional garbage incinerator, says Robert Clark, project head. “This is not a combustion process,” Clark told CBC Hamilton. “The layman automatically thinks gasification is incineration, and it’s not.”

meeting residents

Lorna Bryan (right) says the proposed gasification plant doesn't fit in with her vision for Hamilton. Phillip Shanks (left) told CBC Hamilton he's convinced the city will just end up burning garbage shipped in from the U.S. (Adam Carter/CBC)

Clark says the process is a “significant technical improvement” over incineration, and a closed system with minimal emissions except for gas turbines used in the system. “Air emissions would just be whatever is coming off the gas engines,” he said. The inert physical material from the process is called “plasma rock,” and can be sold after the fact as a commercial product for the construction industry.

“We’re trying to come here and talk to a lot of different people,” Clark said at the meeting. “Our goal here is to reduce the carbon footprint across the world.”

He also told reporters that the company picked Hamilton out of the eight other locations it looked at because it’s a preexisting “industrial hub.” But that’s counterintuitive to the vision resident Lorna Bryan sees for a “new Hamilton.”

“I thought this city was moving in a different direction,” Bryan said. “I thought we were moving to medical sciences and a performing visual arts centre — that’s what I thought this city was becoming. Building this — regardless of how good it is — it’s not what my vision is.”

Resident Phillip Shanks told CBC Hamilton the location was a definite red flag when he heard about the proposal. “It’s in the bay. Whose garbage are we going to be taking?” he asked. “Illinois’, New York’s — we’re going to be using our guys to burn Yankee garbage.”

“There are no benefits.”

'Just happenstance'

Clark said the port location was “just happenstance,” and the proposed facility would be “nothing like” the traditional steel mill smokestacks dotting the skyline of the north end. About permanent 30 to 50 jobs would be created by the facility, but he couldn’t say how much it would cost to build.

“I can’t give you a straight answer yet … it will depend on the final bids from our contractors,” he said.

Robert Clark

Project head Robert Clark says the proposed Hamilton gasification plant would create 30 to 50 jobs. (Adam Carter/CBC)

The facility would be able to process a lot of different types of waste, like construction materials, institutional waste, bio solids and municipal solid waste, Clark says. It also has the ability to process hazardous waste, but that’s not a part of the current permit process, he added.

Clark would not rule out hazardous waste being processed in the facility at some point down the line. “But that isn’t what this is designed to do right here, right now,” he said.

According to spokesperson Jennifer Hall, the ministry has not received any formal applications for the proposed facility from Port Fuels and Material Services Inc. The city also says it has not received a planning application for the site. According to Coun. Chad Collins, the K Zone lands it would occupy do not permit a private waste incinerator. That means the facility will require a rezoning application, unless the Port Authority somehow tries to make the case that the facility is related to "shipping and navigation."

A website with more information on the project is set to be launched Friday.