The fight against a new proposal to build a waste-to-energy plant on Hamilton’s industrial bayfront is not only motivated by environmental concerns. The city’s reputation is also at stake, says a local politician who’s been vocal in his opposition to the project.

Chad Collins

Chad Collins, councillor for Hamilton's Ward 5, says he's opposed to a proposal to build a new waste-to-gas plant at Pier 15. (Samantha Craggs/CBC)

Chad Collins, councillor for Ward 5 and a longtime proponent of renewing Hamilton’s waterfront, has come out against energy firm Port Fuels & Material Services Inc.’s newly announced plan to build a “gasification” plant on land at Pier 15 that’s owned by the Hamilton Port Authority. The site is located on Sherman Avenue North near Burlington Street. 

The facility, the corporation’s officials have stressed, would not be an “incinerator,” as critics of the plan have suggested. Instead, it would involve a process called “plasma gasification,” which uses 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.

'Re-branding' Hamilton

Whether or not it qualifies as an incinerator, the proposed plant, Collins said, represents a threat to the city’s reputation.

“We know that over the last 30 to 40 years, image has been a big problem for us," he told CBC Hamilton on Saturday. "In many ways, it’s hurt our economic progress."

The smokestacks and “scrap yards” that line parts of Hamilton’s industrial shoreline, discourage investors who are looking to set up shop in a “modern industrial parks,” Collins said. 

Setting up a plant on the eastern waterfront that would convert waste into fuel, he said, would take the city in the opposite direction, and add only a few dozen jobs.

“Are these the types of business that we want to continue to cater to?” he said.

ii-babcock

Hamilton communications consultant Laura Babcock says the city can now afford to be more selective about the industrial development proposals it approves. (Supplied)

Laura Babcock, a Hamilton communications consultant who has advocated for the city to take a more active role in re-branding itself, says city hall has to be “careful” not to damage its changing reputation when it is considering applications for new industrial projects.

“I think that the re-branding has been happening organically as the message of what the city has to offer has been getting out,” said Babcock, president of Powergroup Communications. She listed Hamilton’s arts scene, real estate prices, its health care industry and McMaster Innovation Park as features that are attracting new investors to the city.  

“We’re no longer in a position of ‘Beggars can’t be choosers.’ ”

Planning in early stages

Port Fuels & Material Services held a public information session about the plant proposal Thursday at the Museum of Steam and Technology in the city’s east end. Project lead Robert Clark said he was surprised at the opposition he encountered at the meeting, which attracted nearly 100 participants.

Clark said he believes the resistance stems from a misunderstanding about what exactly his team is proposing. “I think the majority the comments that we’ve received early on are based on classifying it erroneously as an incinerator,” he said.

“We need to get our information out and we need to answer questions. It’s not just about business, it’s about community involvement.”

gasification plant meeting

Project head Robert Clark (right) spoke with many residents at Thursday evening's meeting about a proposed gasification plant on Sherman Avenue, north of Burlington Street. (Adam Carter/CBC)

How much say the city — and by extension, Hamilton residents — have on the project will depend on the details of the proposal. If the waste that’s used in the gasification process is imported by boat, Collins said, the facility may fall entirely under the jurisdiction of the port authority and could be exempted from the city’s zoning bylaws.

However, Clark said his team is still working out how the waste would make it to the site. The inputs, he said, would ideally come from other port tenants or other facilities located nearby.

“The goal always has been and continues to be to process waste as close to the source as we can.”

What shape the proposal will take, he added, will depend on environmental studies and discussions with government regulators, a process that will play out over the next year.

“This could take time.”