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The "mind-boggling" path toward Metro Vancouver's $480 million incineration plan

In an effort to deal with the region's increasing waste, Metro Vancouver is pushing to put $480 million toward incineration of non-recyclable waste. But how did the founders of the Zero Waste Challenge get on track for this project? Latest in a series. 

Former Metro Vancouver chair Lois Jackson (top left) and current chair Greg Moore (top right), Vancouver councillor Andrea Reimer (bottom left) and Abbotsford councillor Patricia Ross (bottom right)

“It's mind-boggling,” said then-Fraser Valley Regional District Chair Patricia Ross, who successfully fought the Sumas 2 Energy plant proposal in 2006. She has been fighting Metro Vancouver's plans for a new incinerator (or two new incinerators) for over seven years. “It's hard to wrap my mind around why they'd keep going with this, especially with the emergence of Material Recovery Facilities, where private businesses are coming forward to build them for no taxpayer money,” Ross said.

“You don't have to pay $480 million for a new incinerator -- and that's just for the construction. The amount you have to pay for maintaining it is staggering.” 

So, how did Metro Vancouver, which launched the “Zero Waste Challenge” in 2008, land on track to build a half-billion dollar incinerator to deal with non-recyclable waste? Were alternatives being considered seriously back then, and are they now?

Notes from a Metro Vancouver committee meeting on April 23, 2010 suggest that some directors were getting concerned about media perception at the time, suggesting the “public needs to be made aware that all technologies available are being considered.”

Yet in an earlier meeting, some people on the Metro Vancouver board openly questioned why in-region waste-to-energy incineration and landfill were the only options being considered in the draft plan.

Foot-dragging and pressure to get on board

Vancouver councillor Andrea Reimer said when she was elected in 2008, she was “agnostic” on the issue of incineration. Despite her environmental credentials, her plan was not to fight the project. A new $480 million incinerator (or two incinerators) was just one part of the Integrated Solid Waste and Resource Management Plan, a 30-year plan that included ambitious goals to reduce garbage and recycle up to 80 per cent of the region's waste 2020. 

“We wanted more time to understand the issue,” Reimer said.

But when Reimer and other Vancouver councillors began questioning whether burning garbage was really the best route to go, they got heavy push back from senior Metro Vancouver directors, who accused them of slowing down the approval process for a new incinerator.

“I cannot tell you how many times at the board that I would be the subject of the most vicious lectures about 'unreasonable delays' we were causing, with people saying, essentially, 'if you're too dumb to understand this, you shouldn't be elected',” she said. “It was so patronizing. So rude.”

She said Metro Vancouver representatives like Surrey councillor Marvin Hunt who was then-chair of the Metro Vancouver waste management committee, Delta Mayor and then-Metro Vancouver chair Lois Jackson and then-Metro Vancouver CAO Johnny Carline, were already “heavily bought in” to the incinerator solution. And some members were on board to get it approved as early as 2009.

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