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Williams Lake chapter opposed to rail tie burning at biomass plant

The Council of Canadians Williams Lake chapter is opposing the burning of railroad ties to generate electricity at a local biomass plant.

The plant could potentially burn 225,000 tonnes of toxic material per year impacting both air and water quality.

On September 8, the Williams Lake Tribune reported, “[Dedham, Massachusetts-based] Atlantic Power Preferred Equity Ltd. has received an amended permit [from the provincial government] to burn rail ties at its biomass fuelled energy plant in Williams Lake. The amended permit allows for the plant’s biomass fuel to contain up to 50 per cent combined rail ties and cleaned demolition debris.”

That article adds, “Ever since the company made its intentions known that it wanted to burn shredded rail ties, there has been lots of opposition from residents in Williams Lake. Concerns range from health because of emissions, rail tie storage, ash disposal and its storage. There has also been concern raised about the amount of potable water the plant uses, which the city’s chief financial officer confirmed was 206,820,868 gallons in 2015, which works out to 508,098 gallons a day.”

A letter to the editor published in the newspaper earlier this month notes, “To avoid spontaneous combustion at Atlantic Power, untreated mill waste is continuously watered down. Shredded creosote rail ties and other chemically treated construction wood cannot be continuously watered down to prevent spontaneous combustion. It could contaminate the ground and find its way into runoff water and snow melt. Also, burning rail ties will contaminate three watersheds, a lake all in sight of Atlantic Power, also in the whole industrial area, Williams Lake Seniors Village, day care centre, high school, hospital, Deni House, junior secondary and the rest of the city of Williams Lake.”

To read an opinion piece by Sage Birchwater, please click here.

Birchwater makes the argument that, “Atlantic Power says burning rail ties is the answer for the projected wood fibre shortfall once the region’s annual allowable timber harvest is cut in half in the next five to nine years. [Retired forester Jim] Hilton points out that three BC Hydro reports confirm there is plenty of clean residual wood fibre left in the bush to support the power plant, but he suspects Atlantic Power’s chief interest in burning rail ties is all about maximizing corporate profits. He notes that the ash from burning clean residual fibre has value as an ingredient for fertilizer or pavement. Ash from burning rail ties must be managed in perpetuity as a toxic substance.”

For further updates on this situation, see the No to Rail Tie burning by Atlantic Power in Williams Lake Facebook page. The page is described as a source of “Information for Citizens of Williams Lake and Area who do not want the air shed compromised by the burning of Rail Ties.”