Port authority cuts ties with Port Fuels, proposed gasification plant is dead

A controversial energy-from-waste plant on Hamilton's north shore, first floated in 2014, won't go ahead.

The port and the company behind the plant have 'mutually agreed' to let the lease on Pier 15 expire

Coun. Matthew Green talked about his opposition for the proposed waste gasification plant that would go on Pier 15, behind him, at a "Pollution Crawl" in 2015. (Kelly Bennett/CBC)

A controversial proposal for an energy-from-waste plant on Hamilton's north shore, first floated in 2014, is dead.

The port and the company behind the plant have "mutually agreed" to let the lease on Pier 15 expire, CBC Hamilton has learned. A formal announcement from the Hamilton Port Authority is expected later Friday. 

The port "is dealing with an acute shortage of developable employment land and the Port Fuels effort is taking much longer than they expected," said port spokeswoman Larissa Fenn. 

In March, CBC Hamilton reported that it had been more than a year since the province had heard from the company. But even project opponents said then they weren't considering it dead yet.

Ontario's environment ministry ruled last year that Port Fuels and Materials Services Inc. needed a full environmental assessment for its proposed plant on Hamilton's waterfront. That left it up to the company to work on the next steps, but the company last talked with the Ministry of Environment and Climate Change in February 2016.

The port says it wants to remove old buildings and realign railway lines within the port lands in order to make space for development opportunities. 

Project head Robert Clark (right) speaks with residents at a 2014 meeting about a proposed gasification plant on Sherman Avenue, north of Burlington Street. (Adam Carter/CBC)

"From my perspective, it's a huge victory," said Coun. Sam Merulla, who represents Ward 4.

Merulla said the plan represented a kind of "old Hamilton" typified by smokestacks and dirty industry. 

Coun. Matthew Green, also a vocal opponent of the project, said community member Kate Andrus would be smiling at the news. Andrus vigorously fought the project before she died of cancer at the beginning of 2016.

"I credit her hard work, the incredible community mobilizing efforts and supportive members of council for this community led-victory," Green said. 

The issue dates back to 2014, when Port Fuels held public meetings about the proposed plant.

The project on Hamilton's Pier 15 would use a trademarked Gasplasma technology. Port Fuels said it would turn an estimated 170,000 tonnes per year of non-hazardous waste into gas, and process another 30,000 tonnes using a direct plasma process. 

The plant would be on federal Hamilton Port Authority land and, Port Fuels says, use waste from around the bay. The company went through an environmental screening process, a less stringent assessment which Port Fuels head Robert Clark said at the time should have been enough to answer the ministry's questions.

"We submitted an extreme amount of information," he said in late 2015.

Not everyone was against the project. Those who supported it said it would bring jobs and economic activity, and provide an alternative to using landfills.

Several parties wanted a full individual assessment, though — a higher level of environmental scrutiny. That included city council and Andrea Horwath, Ontario NDP leader and MPP for Hamilton Centre. The project was a source of conflict between the city and the port authority over how much say the city had over the project's approval.

Merulla praised port president Ian Hamilton and said the city and the port are getting to a place of burying a century of animosity and competing visions for Hamilton's waterfront. 

"He's committed to synchronizing his vision with ours," Merulla said.

Green said he hopes the port has "learned to appreciate the value of the neighbourhood they operate in a little bit more."

With files from Samantha Craggs