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Gas plant report sets stage for showdown with city over approvals

The gasification plant proposed for Hamilton’s waterfront will happen with or without the city’s approval says the company proposing it in a newly released environmental screening report. The city sees things differently
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 gasification energy-from-waste plant proposed for Hamilton’s waterfront will happen with or without the city’s approval, says a new environmental screening report issued by the Port Fuels and Materials Services, the company behind the proposal.

City zoning is not listed as a required approval in the report, since it is to be located on Pier 15, federally owned Hamilton Port Authority lands. 

The report says the plant already meets all the land use requirements for Pier 15, and that it will give city planning and building staff information on the project only “out of courtesy and from a safety perspective.”

City said zoning and building permit required

But the report sets the stage for a showdown with the city over the approvals, since the city maintains the site needs both a zoning change and a building permit and it can't get a building permit without the proper zoning. 

A zoning application is likely one of the only chances city council would have to vote directly on the project. 

The report's conclusion is the opposite of what Steve Robichaud, the city's director of planning, said earlier this month.

The plant will require rezoning, Robichaud said. "A private energy from waste facility is not a permitted use based on current zoning." On Monday, the city maintained its position.

The gasification plant isn't shipping and navigation related, nor is it integral to the port's operations or exempted under the Green Energy Act, the city said. All of those factors could be used to exempt the project from city controls. The environmental screening report does say some waste may arrive by barge —which might be a basis for raising the shipping argument.

The site is zoned K, which doesn't allow a private utility plant. The property would have to be rezoned K with the plant added as a special use, Robichaud said.

Who settles disagreement?

Robichaud said the company would have to apply for a building permit for the project and the city would only grant that permit if the land is properly zoned.

If the company moved ahead anyway, Robichaud said, the city would ask it to stop and eventually lay a fine. If work continued, the city would issue a stop work order and the matter could eventually end up in court.

The city and public have until Feb. 27  to comment on the report and to request a "bump up" — to ask the Ministry of Environment to require a full environmental assessment, he said. City staff are reviewing the environmental screening report to determine whether to do that. If there's time, it will ask city council for a vote, Robichaud said.

Part of the conversation

Matthew Green, Ward 3 councillor, wants to see an independent environmental assessment. He doesn't trust the company's environmental screening report. 

"That’s going to be their position," Green said of the company insisting it doesn't need rezoning. "Our position is quite different." 

The city needs to use "whatever we have available to us to ensure our city is included in the conversation about what happens on our waterfront," he said.

The plant would use a Gasplasma process, which uses “thermal conversion technology” to convert waste into synthetic gas and electrical energy.

It was drawn concerns in Hamilton over its impact on the environment and the image of the city, as well as for being largely uncharted technology.

The report says the plant meets federal and provincial guidelines for air quality, water quality and other environmental factors.

But Green wants to hear that from an independent source.

"That’s their report," he said. "I’m interested in an individual environmental screening held by the province."

The plant will process as much as 170,000 tonnes of non-hazardous waste per year using its Gasplasma process, and as much as 30,000 tonnes per year of using a direct plasma process, the report says.

Here are some other highlights of the report:

  • The plant will employ about 30 people on the day shift and 10 on the night shift.
  • It expects 150 inbound trucks during peak hours and 120 outbound trucks. That includes about 30 large inbound trucks per day carrying about 36 tonnes of waste.
  • The waste will be industrial, commercial and institutional waste, construction and demolition, refuse-derived waste, municipal solid waste, biomass, biosolids, tires and liquid wastes streams.
  • The report says most of the waste will be transported by train, but the waste that arrives by barge will be transported to the plant by trucks from an offsite dock. The liquid waste will be stored in four 100-cubic-metre indoor tanks.

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