Plans to build a pellet plant near Lavington Elementary school aren’t getting a passing grade from the Vernon School Board.
The board has written a letter to the Environmental Protection Officer stating that it cannot endorse the construction of a pellet plant by Pinnacle Renewable Energy due to the uncertain nature of information received.
“We are unable to determine if the proposed pellet plan operation could present a potential danger to the students and teachers of Lavington School,” said chairperson Bill Turanski, in the letter.
The board recently received presentations from Pinnacle and a number of Lavington parents and citizens but found that there are major conflicts with the data provided.
“The board’s primary concern must, in every case, be the health and welfare of the students and if we err it will be on the side of caution.
“We urge the Ministry of Environment to review this proposal to its fullest extent possible to ensure safety and well being of our staff and students.”
Pinnacle President Leroy Reitsma isn’t surprised by the position taken by the school board considering the concerns raised by area residents about health impacts due to particulate matter produced by pellet plants.
But considering the advanced technology this proposal encompasses, Reitsma says he is actually surprised by the poor reception the plant has been given.
“I was not expecting people to react this way because the emission levels were so low,” said Reitsma.
In fact, the plant aims at improving local air quality.
“The fact is that this is a part of a larger effort to deal with fugitive dust,” said Reitsma, as sawdust at the adjacent Tolko facility (along with numerous other facilities in the region) is just stockpiling and being blown around the area.
“It’s to address that issue right there and I think that’s not been realized.”
But the final decision lays with the ministry, which will use its own experts to decide whether the plant is safe for the region.
Reitsma can’t say when a decision will be made.
“There’s rarely a time-line with these things. It takes the time that’s required.”
But Pinnacle has set itself up to be able to start construction this year if the approval is granted.
“This is the major condition precedent to proceeding.”
Meanwhile Lavington resident Stephanie Hoffman, who led efforts to sway Coldstream council’s support of the plant, is pleased with the school board’s decision.
“As it was mentioned in their letter, the simple fact remains, that it is nearly impossible to determine the potential health hazards that might result from allowing an industry such as a pellet plant to be located within arm’s reach of an elementary school,” said Hoffman.
“This is all the concerned residents of Lavington have ever asked for is that our representatives be very cautious in moving forward on something of this scale that will have a considerable impact on our community.”
With these concerns in mind, Hoffman hopes the Ministry of Environment will follow suit and err on the side of caution by requesting that a full Environmental Analysis be completed in the area of the proposed pellet plant.