The possibility that a new waste-to-energy incinerator might be built on Vancouver Island has caused a stir among Nanaimo-area politicians who fear Metro Vancouver's garbage may be shipped their way.
Nanaimo Regional District area A director Alec McPherson told Black Press he's "very concerned" the incinerator might be built at Duke Point, south of Nanaimo.
No specific proposal has been made public for that part of the island.
But Metro Vancouver officials have notified all Vancouver Island regional districts that the search for prospective sites includes their regions.
Municipalities, regional districts, other branches of government and private property owners can all step forward and propose their land as a potential host site for the new waste-to-energy plant.
Locations both inside Metro Vancouver and outside the region must be fairly considered, according to an environment ministry directive.
A short list of potential sites is to be drawn up by November.
One potential site on the far side of Vancouver Island is a former pulp mill at Gold River, which would require Metro waste to be barged all the way around the island.
A Nanaimo-area site would offer much closer shipping, and might require no barging at all if garbage loads were instead sent via Tsawwassen-Duke Point ferries.
Fraser Valley Regional District directors are strongly opposed to the construction of any new garbage incinerator in the Lower Mainland, citing the risk of increased air pollution in the constrained Valley airshed.
Fraser Valley politicians have said they would have no such grounds to object to a remote incineration site like Gold River.
But what about Nanaimo?
"That would not be in our airshed," FVRD vice-chair Patricia Ross said. "It wouldn't necessarily affect us and our airshed and our agriculture here. But that does not mean we would find it acceptable."
Ross said the FVRD is concerned that any pursuit of waste-to-energy incineration in B.C. will lead to more garbage being burned, rather than recycled.
She said the FVRD is limited to air quality concerns for formally opposing whatever plant Metro proposes, but would work to assist opponents in Nanaimo, if a site is proposed there.
"We don't feel comfortable saying it's okay to put it there," Ross said. "That would be up to those folks to decide."
The new waste-to-energy plant is to be built by 2018 and be able to handle 370,000 tonnes of garbage per year. Metro is in the early stages of a complex procurement process.
The ability to effectively use the power produced, potentially through a district energy system, is one of the site selection criteria to be considered.
Christianne Wilhelmson of the Georgia Strait Alliance said she doesn't like the idea of moving garbage by water.
"I think the model of barging over waste from Metro Vancouver to Nanaimo is deeply deeply flawed and not well thought out," she said.
Wilhelmson said she mainly objects to the export of waste on sustainability grounds, adding garbage barges likely pose less risk to the marine environment than oil tankers or the federally authorized dumping of soil in the strait.
Garbage is already moving on B.C.'s coastal waterways.
The Cowichan Valley Regional District and Powell River both ship their garbage via barge to Metro Vancouver, where the containers are put onto rail and sent south, along with trainloads of trash from Whistler, to the Roosevelt Regional Landfill in southern Washington State.