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City heading for a stand off over gasification plant zoning

The city of Hamilton is heading for a procedural showdown over a controversial gasification plant on Hamilton’s waterfront, one councillor predicts.
The case of a proposed gasification plant on federal lands on Hamilton's waterfront will end up in court, one councillor predicts. (Courtesy of Port Fuels and Materials Services Inc.)

The city of Hamilton is heading for a showdown over a controversial gasification plant on Hamilton’s waterfront, one councillor predicts.

Port Fuels and Materials Services Inc. needs zoning approval from the city’s planning department to build an energy-from-waste plant on Pier 15, Coun. Chad Collins said.

But neither Port Fuels nor the Hamilton Port Authority, which owns the land, have acknowledged that they need it, the Ward 5 councillor said. Without it, they can’t get a building permit for the plant.

“I believe, just based on what our staff have been messaging to us, that we’re headed for some kind of a process showdown and standoff,” Collins said after a general issues committee meeting on Wednesday.

If that happens, he said, the two sides will likely end up fighting each other in court.

City's only chance 

Zoning approval is key since it’s likely the only chance city council will have to vote on the facility.

Port Fuels is leasing federal Port Authority land for its project, so except for the disputed zoning, project approvals fall outside the city’s jurisdiction. But the project was an election issue in October, and several councillors, including Collins and Coun. Matthew Green of Ward 3, have serious concerns with the project.

Community groups are also divided. The Keith Community Hub came out in favour of the plant this week, while another group, Trash the Garbage Plant, is protesting on Thursday.

The plant would use a process called “plasma gasification,” otherwise known by the trademark Gasplasma. It uses extremely high temperatures to break down waste into its atomic elements and turn it to gas. The company is using the new technology at a much-smaller test facility in Swindon, UK.

Zoning question acknowledged

The city has hired a consulting firm, WSP Canada, to do an environmental review of the project. It will recommend whether council should ask the province for a “bump up” — an individual Ministry of Environment assessment that would go further than the environmental screening report the company was required to produce.

In a letter this week, Robert Clark, chief operating officer of Port Fuels and Material Services Inc., came the closest the company has yet to publicly acknowledging the zoning amendment that the city says it requires.

There is a “question around the current zoning designation for the proposed site,” Clark said in his letter to council. “We have had initial meetings with the city planning office and this will be satisfactorily resolved.”

The environmental screening report from Port Fuels Materials Services, released in December, says that it will give city planning and building staff information on the project only “out of courtesy and from a safety perspective.”

The general issues committee voted Wednesday to send a letter to the port authority reminding it that zoning approval is required for both the gasification plant and a planned waterfront brewery.

Neighbourhoods divided

Project advocates say that the plant uses two well known and already tested technologies. WSP’s report, meanwhile, says Gasplasma is a fairly untried technology.

The test plant in Swindon, UK is built to process 625 tonnes of waste per year. The proposed plant in Hamilton would convert some 200,000 tonnes of imported waste per year into electricity. This prompted Andrea Horwath, Hamilton Centre MPP and Ontario NDP leader, to call the plant “a science project.”

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