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Port Fuels plant: City wants the province to take a closer look

Hamilton city councillors want the province to give extra scrutiny to a proposed gasification plant to make sure the project won’t cause health or environmental damage to the city’s residents.

Councillors voted to ask the province for a full environmental assessment of the proposed plant

Project head Robert Clark (right) speaks with residents at a recent meeting about a proposed gasification plant on Sherman Avenue, north of Burlington Street. On Wednesday, city councillors voted to ask the province for a more scrutiny in the form of an environmental assessment, or "bump up." (Adam Carter/CBC)

Hamilton city councillors want the province to give extra scrutiny to a proposed gasification plant to make sure the project won't cause health or environmental damage to the city's residents.

But the chances of that review actually happening are slim.

The general issues committee voted on Wednesday to ask the Ministry of Environment for a full environmental assessment of the proposed Port Fuels and Materials Services Inc. energy-from-waste plant.

A city-hired consultant says the project still has question marks, such as the amount of emissions it will cause and how it will handle various types of waste. And the technology, Gasplasma, is largely untested on the scale that Port Fuels is proposing for Hamilton's waterfront.

The residents of Hamilton deserve better than being guinea pigs to private equity and profit.- Coun. Matthew Green

But such full assessments, known as "bump ups," don't happen often, said Mayor Fred Eisenberger. And at the meeting Wednesday, city consultant Peter Pickfield said there was a "slight" chance of it happening.

That's why the motion also included asking Port Fuels to give the city and province more information on the project, as an alternative in case the bump up isn't granted, Eisenberger said.

"It's in the hands of the province at the end of the day," he said. "The Ministry of Environment is going to make the best decision on this, and they will determine whether it needs to be done."

The bump up request is the latest in a series of actions the city has taken to try to have a say in the project, which would manufacture industrial waste from around the harbour.

The Hamilton Port Authority will give final approval to the lease. The waterfront project already complies with the city's zoning bylaw, which is necessary for a building permit, so councillors won't be able to vote on that either.

'Serious trust issues'

But many councillors are against the project. This includes Coun. Matthew Green of Ward 3, who tabled a motion Wednesday to formally oppose the plant. He also wanted to put a moratorium on doing any kind of business with Port Fuels if the province doesn't grant a bump up.

"The residents of Hamilton deserve better than being guinea pigs to private equity and profit," said Green, who says he has "serious trust issues" with the company.

I don't want to scare away investors, but we need to have standards.- Coun. Chad Collins

Councillors put off Green's motion until the city hears back about the bump up. But Coun. Chad Collins of Ward 5 joined him in opposing the project, saying the city's lax and outdated industrial zoning laws allow Hamilton to be "a city of last resort" for waste facilities.

Hamilton has become "the waste capital of Canada," he said.

"I don't want to scare away investors, but we need to have standards," he said. "And I'm not sure what (Port Fuels is) proposing meets the standards we need to adopt immediately."

City doesn't need to 'bend over'

Coun. Sam Merulla of Ward 4 opposed it too, calling it a "vision of yesterday."

"It's too easy to bend over for everyone who comes here saying they're going to give us money."

Robert Clark of Port Fuels said afterward that a bump up isn't needed. The province already had the company do an environmental screening process, which uses the same criteria, he said. So it doesn't need the same information again.

"We maintain that we don't need one," he said.

If we're going to be innovative, as we say we are in our mission statement, we can't keep shutting the door on anything that's creative and innovative.- Mayor Fred Eisenberger

The city hired its own consultant, WSP, to do an environmental assessment. WSP had to sign a non-disclosure agreement to access technical information about the proposed plant. Because of that, said David MacGillivray of WSP, Port Fuels isn't allowing the public to see the full technical report.

Clark defended the decision, saying the full report contains "trade secrets."

Mayor calls the project 'intriguing'

In its report, WSP posed 11 questions about the Port Fuels project. Clark said his company is already in the process of answering them.

The city expects to wait months before it hears whether the province will grant the bump up request. When it does, Green will reintroduce his motion. 

Eisenberger said Wednesday that he wouldn't support that motion. He wants to keep his mind open to alternatives to garbage going into local landfills.

"The technology is intriguing," he said.

"If we're going to be innovative, as we say we are in our mission statement, we can't keep shutting the door on anything that's creative and innovative."

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