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Nanaimo city officials take a beating over Metro Van's Duke Point incinerator plan

It's only one of nine proposed sites to host a possible Metro Vancouver garbage incinerator, but even before a final decision is made, local activists, residents and politicians are demanding answers about a very controversial plan.  21st in the series.

John Ruttan, Mayor of Nanaimo. Photo courtesy Nanaimo Daily News

From its forested mountain backdrop to the panorama of snow-capped Coast Mountains, Nanaimo is a classic West Coast community, “offering natural beauty at every turn”, according to the city’s tourism department.

What you don’t see under this scenic surface is the  rage simmering over a proposal to barge garbage from the Vancouver to burn in a proposed incinerator at Duke Point in Nanaimo.  As one Nanaimo councillor put it, "we've been hammered with emails from people furious that this is even being considered."

“I’ve called upon Metro Vancouver to say that we are really taking a beating here from those opposed to the project,” said Nanaimo Mayor John Ruttan. “Could you please tell us what is happening and where are we, and is Nanaimo still in the decision process? And in the absence of getting any meaningful dialogue going with them, it’s left us at the brunt of the storm. Metro Vancouver has done nothing to alleviate the concern. Nothing.“

The image of Nanaimo promoted by the city's tourism dept.

 “People are very, very upset," said Carla Stein with the Sierra Club of Nanaimo. " We have one of the most pristine airsheds in the region. A lot of people have moved over here from Vancouver and other areas specifically because they want a less polluted environment.”

Anger erupted last fall when the Metro Vancouver regional authority announced six potential sites for a waste-to-energy incinerator to handle greater Vancouver’s future garbage. One of those proposed sites is in Nanaimo, on Duke Point, a spit of land directly across from the downtown core, south of the ferry terminal and one kilometer from Gabriola Island. The industrial zone is already home to the Harmac Pacific pulp mill and the smells of an animal rendering plant run by West Coast Reduction.

Duke Point, Nanaimo. Possible site of Metro Vancouver incinerator.

“I live 35 kilometers away. When the Harmac plant started up, I could smell it on certain days,” said Joe Stanhope, the chair of the Regional District of Nanaimo. “We treasure the environment. The RDN has made major strides in environmental issues with a very high recycling rate. It seems a travesty that we are doing such a good job on our own solid waste and then to have this kind of a proposal sitting on our left hand. It’s not a good thing.”

Duke Point one of nine incinerator proposals

The Nanaimo barge/incinerator plan is one of nine bids in front of the Metro Vancouver regional authority as it wrestles with a growing garbage problem. The greater Vancouver region is expected to grow by one million people by 2035, adding an additional 700,000 tonnes of garbage to the 1.5 million tonnes produced now. Under a solid waste plan approved in 2011, the authority hopes to recycle and divert up to 80 per cent of the garbage generated in the region. That still leaves 700,000 tonnes of garbage that must be dealt with. In 2009, the authority voted to build a new incinerator, either within the Metro Vancouver region, or outside the region, in communities like Nanaimo.

Wheelabrator Technologies senior business development manager Mark Schwartz (on left)

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