Opinion: Burning creosote and PCP laden rail ties in Williams Lake is an all risk and no benefit scenario

By Becky Bravi –

Last year I made an appeal to the Environmental Appeal Board opposing the permit to allow Atlantic Power (AP) to burn up to 50 per cent creosote and PCP soaked rail ties in its fuel mix.

As we move to post-evacuation alert status in Williams Lake I realize I am even more opposed to Atlantic Power burning rail ties in our town. I’m grateful we didn’t have to worry about a yard full of rail ties or a pile of highly flammable and toxic creosote soaked chips catching fire this year. But beyond that, I have a growing sense of disappointment in the provincial government, which, under the Christy Clark administration, approved a plan that allowed this idea to move forward despite the risks to our community.

The decision is a poor one on many fronts. In terms of human/environmental health and safety, stockpiling and burning creosote and PCP laden rail ties in Williams Lake is an all risk and no benefit scenario. AP was designed as a co-generation facility to burn forest derived wood waste not toxic chemicals.

But it’s also a lousy resource management decision. AP claims it will run out of available fiber by 2020 and we keep hearing about the coming short fall in timber supply. But a fiber shortage isn’t the issue. The timber short fall has been calculated for saw log volumes only. It does not account for any of the other fiber profiles, such as pulp wood or what we currently term waste wood or hog fuel. These types of wood supply are available across the region in large quantities and we have even planned for their use. Williams Lake has industries (including AP, saw mills, and a pellet plant) that can utilize a range of fiber types.

We have all the fiber required to supply AP’s needs. Shifting climate and the subsequent forest health issues have resulted in us being surrounded by forests full of waste and pulp fiber that puts us at an ever-increasing risk of wildfire. We need AP and others to utilize this fiber as we fire proof our communities and rehabilitate our forests. This is part of our future forest economy, our bread and butter, and yes, AP has a role.

So, the real problem is not a fiber availability one. The real problem is AP needs access to fiber guaranteed to them for the term of their electricity purchase agreement at a set price so they can make their business case. Acquiring a permit to burn rail ties was AP’s business solution but ultimately it has become our dilemma.

We have an opportunity to ask our newly elected provincial government to amend the mistake of their predecessors. Rather than accepting fast and easy fixes that come with added burdens, we deserve management solutions that protect and even increase the health and welfare of our communities. Let’s shout it from the rooftops. Call your local MLA or the newly appointed Minister of Environment to
reverse this decision.

Becki Bravi is resident of Williams Lake and the owner of Terraforma Environmental Ltd. She is a Registered Professional Biologist and has a M.Sc. in Forest Sciences from UBC. She has worked in land management and reforestation in the Cariboo Region for almost 20 years.

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