City can't use zoning to block port lands gasification plant

The company proposing the energy-from-waste plant for Pier 15 will be getting a zoning verification from the city that confirms it meets all city zoning rules.

City staff confirm the plant met all zoning conditions

The proposed gasification plant would be on a site of leased land on Pier 15 on the Hamilton waterfront. (Courtesy of Port Fuels and Materials Services Inc.)

The company proposing a waste-to-energy plant on the waterfront will get zoning approval from Hamilton city staff —possibly as early as today.

The confirmation that the plant falls within city zoning rules removes a key hurdle for the proposed plant and represents a reversal of the city's previous position. It also eliminates city council's only real chance of influencing the decision. Notice of that confirmation came from city staff Tuesday.

Port Fuels and Materials Services, developers of the project, met with city zoning officials last week and told CBC Hamilton they were "informed on Thursday we met the appropriate conditions," said Port Fuels CEO Robert Clark.

Clark said he expects the formal verification of the city today, meaning city officials are reversing their stance, saying now the project won't require a change to city zoning.

"I just believe, as I always have, the project meets the spirit and intent of what the requirements were," Clark said. 

The zoning change was the one mechanism city staff and elected officials were holding out as a reason why Port Fuels should listen to and work with the city and not just with the Hamilton Port Authority. An independent technical review of the project from consultant WSP Canada will be "forwarded to the City shortly in order to assist in their decision making," said the firm's Hamilton operations manager David MacGillivray.

"By facilitating this type of development, the Port Authority has set the City back decades from an environmental perspective and even further from an economic development standpoint," said Coun. Chad Collins, who represents Ward 5 in the city's east end.

"They continue to facilitate 1950s-style developments that prevent other investors from even giving the lower bayfront lands a look," he said. 

The project site is on Pier 15, federally owned Hamilton Port Authority lands, and Port Fuels representatives have said the project would go forward with or without city approval.

The port was not immediately available for comment Tuesday. The main approval process remaining is now the provincial environmental screening, where the various environmental impacts of the project are assessed.

The change in thinking in among city staff comes from a technical redefining of what the project is. The initial rejection was because it was seen as a "private energy generation plant "which is not permitted and would require a rezoning application. After a closer look, staff now accept that the two processes that are part of the operation make it a "waste processing facility"  that includes thermal treatment and the creation of energy as part of it. 

The city's consulting engineering firm, WSP Canada, recommended an independent review earlier this year and expressed concerns about the scale of the operation and the technology that would be used. Port Fuels said it welcomed the third-party review of the potential environmental impacts of its project.

With files from Samantha Craggs