Fred Spinola

Fred Spinola

Pellet plant protest fails to derail plans

Parents fought with passion for the protection of their children at a nearly six-hour public hearing on a proposed Lavington pellet plant

Parents fought with passion for the protection of their children, pulling at the heartstrings of politicians, during a nearly six-hour public hearing on the proposed Lavington pellet plant.

They were successful in convincing three Coldstream councillors from their original position (back in January) in support of the proposed pellet plant in Lavington.

But it wasn’t quite enough to stall the plant process, which is now on track with appropriate land use designation for construction of the facility on agricultural land near Lavington Elementary School.

While Councillors Gyula Kiss, Richard Enns and Doug Dirk were opposed, Mayor Jim Garlick and councillors Maria Besso, Pat Cochrane and Peter McClean approved the zoning change.

Tears were shed as parents walked away with their heads hung low.

“Too bad for us,” said one mom, as she left consoling another, just a couple of the nearly 550 people who signed a petition against the plant.

For most of those in opposition, it’s not the 20 full-time jobs, or the additional rail cars or traffic that the proposed wood pellet plant will bring to town that Lavington residents are concerned with. It’s the emissions that the plant will add to an air-quality challenged valley which they fear, especially since the plant is just 200 metres from the Lavington Elementary school yard.

“I first started out in favour of this plant,” admits Brad Broten, a Brewer Road resident whose kids attend Lavington Elementary. “I no longer am.

“We’re talking about increasing the risk to a population that is already at risk.”

It’s specifically the particulate matter (PM) which comes from pellet plants which residents are concerned with.

Choking back his own tears, Broten spoke up at Coldstream’s second public hearing on the subject Monday at the municipal office, where 85 people came out with varying views on the plant.

Citing reports of PM linked to lung cancer, among other adverse health affects, Broten and those in opposition are concerned for their children.

However Pinnacle Renewable Energy and Tolko Industries, the partners in the pellet plant project, maintain that this plant is safe.

“The difference with this project is this is an organic matter,” said Karen Phillipps, scientist diplomate of the American Board of Toxicology. “I can’t see that there would be any effects.”

Phillipps was one of several experts brought in by Pinnacle and Tolko to speak on such subjects and PM and the plant’s drying process.

Fred Spinola, of Deltech Manufacturing, has worked in the wood drying field for more than 20 years and says the technology Pinnacle is proposing for the Lavington pellet plant is top of the line.

Unlike drum dryers, which are currently predominant in North America, this plant has a belt or bed dryer (which are successfully used in Europe).

The main difference between the two is temperature. Drum dryers maintain dangerous temperatures of 500 to 600 degrees Celsius, whereas bed dryers operate no higher than 130.

Along with virtually eliminating the risk of fire or explosion, Spinola explains that these bed dryers are environmentally safe.

“Essentially there is zero particulate in suspension during this process.”

But the PM, both 10 and 2.5 with the latter being more dangerous, that the plant may exhaust is what concerns residents.

“How much economic growth is worth putting our community and children at risk?” asked Jay Shaw, a Locke Drive resident who was also initially in favour of the plant.

Pinnacle’s conservative estimates are that annually there will be .35 microns. Adversely, a study of wood stoves in the area show an elevation of 4.16.

Armstrong Coun. Shirley Fowler said Armstrong residents had similar concerns about the Pinnacle mill operating in Armstrong.

“In Armstrong you live within one mile of that plant,” said Fowler.

While there were some initial noise issues, which were addressed, she says Pinnacle has been a good neighbour in the community.

Retired Tolko president Al Thorlakson also says existing dust issues from the planer mill (opposite the tracks to the proposed pellet plant site) will be addressed with the new plant and Tolko efforts.

“Beyond the paving of the road, we will be working diligently on the dust and traffic issues that have been raised here.”

Coldstream is also demanding that there be a monitoring station at Lavington Elementary School and in the area of dispersion.

The Interior Health Authority has also stated it will not allow permitting to take place unless air standards are met.

The Ministry of Environment must also grant approval for the plant, in which it is currently studying the reports, public concerns and its own emission standards. The plant will also be back at Coldstream council for a development permit and other procedural issues but council can no longer receive additional public comments.

The Vernon School District has not had a chance to weigh in on the subject, since they do not meet until Aug. 27.

Leroy Reitsma, Pinnacle president and CEO, welcomes the school board’s input and says the MoE could make an exemption and hold off on its decision until it has heard from the board.