Morrow changes tune on waterfront waste-to-energy plant
Hamilton councillor thinks garbage plant would be good for city, but knows many of his constituents oppose it
It’s still not clear whether the waste-to-energy gasification project’s proponents will pursue city zoning permission, or stick with their contention that their project is on Port Authority lands and therefore won't need the city’s OK.
But while those conversations continue, at least one city councillor has changed his mind about a proposed waste-to-energy gasification plant proposed for Hamilton’s industrial waterfront.
A few months ago, Councillor Bob Morrow said he’d ask the city to formally oppose a waste-to-energy gasification plant proposed for the waterfront in Ward 3, which Morrow represents.
Now he’s been keeping that motion in the wings, postponing but not withdrawing it.
And in the meantime, after sitting through four information meetings and presentations, Morrow’s changed his mind about the project.
Morrow’s concerns have been “overcome largely” during the proponents’ presentations, he said.
“Personally, if I were all by myself I would support it,” he said Friday. “I think it’s good science and I think it’s good for the community, jobs, taxes, everything else.”
But, he said, there’s an important caveat: He will represent what he perceives to be the majority opinion among his constituents.
“But I also am required to represent the people of the ward until December,” he said.
- RELATED: 6 questions about the proposed Hamilton waste-to-energy plant
- RELATED: Sherman neighbourhood residents push for answers on garbage plant
'I plan on fighting this project,' Merulla says
Councillor Sam Merulla in neighbouring Ward 4 expresses none of that equivocation. He fought the city’s SWARU incinerator and a biomass gasification plan proposed by Liberty Energy. He said he’s looking forward to the “battle.”
“I plan on fighting this project just as strongly,” he said.
Hamilton’s airshed is already at its pollution limit, he said.
“I’ve never been in support of any gasification initiative,” he said. “Anything that contributes to [airshed emissions] even in a so-called minor way exacerbates that issue,” he said.
“Regardless of what they claim to be state of the art technology, we have no capacity remaining for any type of emissions whatsoever,” he added.
If the project proponents would allow the city’s public health department to monitor the site in real time and shut it down should it give off any hazardous emissions, Merulla suggested he may reconsider his stance.
Otherwise, he’s staunchly opposed. And if Morrow won’t bring the motion forward asking the city to oppose the project, Merulla will do it himself next month, he said.
"The mayor is hoping with some education, that might be able to calm any fears," she said.
Morrow said his personal opinion should not be taken necessarily as how he’ll vote.
“Everything I have heard points to a good project here but again I’ll be waiting and watching and listening,” he said.
Project head Robert Clark said his team is continuing its environmental permitting applications and completing "about a dozen" site-specific studies for the proposed location. He said expects “positive results” to come from discussions between the city and the Port, which would be the project’s landlord.
Ward 3 candidates on the plant
Since Morrow could be out of office by the time any vote on this project comes to a city vote, CBC Hamilton asked candidates for Ward 3 in October how they line up on the project.
“This is as much about perception as it is emissions,” said Bob Assadourian. “Ward 3 and the greater Hamilton for that matter, should not be perceived as a garbage dumping and or burning grounds.”
Drina Omazic, also running in Ward 3, said she's skeptical of the proponents' claims about the plant's emissions.
"Until we have more information, we are concerned by a facility that may very well add to the existing air quality burden in the neighbourhood," she said.
Another candidate, Matthew Green, suggested the project would send the city backwards. While proponents have said there are no immediate plans to process toxic waste in the plant, some vocal residents fear the plant will move on to that hazardous waste later in the plant’s life.
“With the city having already spent millions to commercially redevelop piers 4 through 8, I can not see how the potential for processing toxic waste fits into our future vision of our waterfront,” Green said.
Mark DiMillo, also running for Ward 3, echoed that assessment.
“The stigma attached to this type of facility does not fit the progressive planning initiatives of our city moving forward,” he said.
Ward 3 candidate Brian Kelly took a more measured stance -- he endorses the technology, but he thinks it's too early in that neighbourhood's revitalization to commit to the project. He rejects the argument that the plant would be "another SWARU."
"I reject this argument completely as the technology is very different but this does say something about the legacy that that operation has etched in peoples’ minds and the promoters of the project must respect that," Kelly said.
Opposing them, candidate Ralph Agostino said he’s convinced the project won’t give off any emissions that would impact the city’s air quality. He supports the project as a job and tax revenue-generator.
“After carefully studying the gasification plant I believe it's a win-win situation for the city,” he said.
Tim Simmons, also running for Ward 3, supports the project for its jobs and tax creation.
"We would see 30 to 50 new jobs as well as spinoff jobs to support families," Simmons said.
Ward 3 candidates Sean Gibson and Carlos Pinho did not respond to request for comment Friday.