Councillors may have backed away from the fight, but they should still throw in with the community in the upcoming battle over a proposed biogas plant, say Elmira residents who launched an appeal to the province’s Environmental Review Tribunal.
Addressing council Monday night, representatives of the group asked for the township’s help in fighting the project, calling it a potential health hazard that will lower the quality of life in Elmira. Although Woolwich opted against an appeal, citing the cost of fighting a battle with a slim chance of being won, councillors have a duty to protect residents, argued Vivienne Delaney and Michael Purves-Smith.
Their presentation, which emphasized the negative impacts of the extra truck traffic that would be needed to service the plant, laid the blame squarely on the shoulders of the Ontario government.
“It clearly does not care where bio-energy plants are located, so long as they are built,” said Purves-Smith, noting the province ignored the input and best interests of Elmira residents in giving the green light to the application by Woolwich Bio-En.
“The Ministry of the Environment once again has let Elmira down. We’re asking Woolwich council to stand up for us – where do you stand on this issue and are you on board with us?” he asked.
Both stressed they support the goal of green energy, but want to see the project built elsewhere, away from residential and commercial areas.
“Noise, odour, vibration, congestion – who will live, visit or shop in Elmira if this gets worse?” asked Delaney, rattling off a list of problems that will accompany the construction of the energy-generating facility just north of the downtown core.
Pointing to the increased truck traffic – and the health risks of diesel-fuelled vehicles – they noted the existing zoning in the area of the Martin’s Lane facility will see the creation of an industrial park with truck access only through the core of Elmira.
“If the site in north Elmira is to be properly used, without bringing extra truck traffic through town, we do need a truck bypass,” said Purves-Smith.
“What is the benefit to Elmira of increased truck traffic from new industry in the north of town? Where else has a significant extension of an industrial park been approved when there is no truck access to it except through a downtown and residential area?”
That idea drew support from Coun. Mark Bauman, who called on Mayor Todd Cowan to pursue the long-discussed bypass route at regional council.
“A truck bypass is not only important to this project, but to other projects. If there’s one thing we should be doing – that would be a regional issue – it’s pushing the region on a truck bypass.”
Bauman was cautious, however, about committing the township’s time and money to the appeal, noting council had received legal advice that the narrow scope of the appeal process makes success unlikely.
The citizens’ group is asking for administrative support, expert witnesses, research support and funding to help with legal action.
For his part, Cowan said the township would continue to lobby the provincial government to allow the project to be moved to another site – a Breslau location has been suggested, though there are many details still to be worked out. Although not overly optimistic at this point, he said he would push for an alternative.
“I’m trying to be realistic – I’m not going to promise that we’re going to (be successful, but we’re going to continue the efforts on our part.”