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Fraser River not the place for hazardous waste plant

In an increasingly dirty world, Aevitas Inc. does an important job, disposing of and recycling hazardous waste.

Boasting a spotless work record – no toxic spills in more than 20 years – Aevitas has been expanding its operations, adding new plants recently in Edmonton and Detroit.

But its proposed move into British Columbia has sparked controversy because of where the company wants to build – right on the banks of the Fraser River.

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"We've got nothing against the proposal – except its location," said Rod Clapton of the B.C. Federation of Drift Fishers. "We appreciate that in this day and age with these types of materials out there that there has to be facilities to handle [toxic waste] – but most certainly it cannot be on the flood plain of the world's number one salmon river."

Mr. Clapton and Ernie Crey, a fisheries adviser to the Sto:lo First Nation, have been rallying opposition to the Aevitas proposal. So far, more than 20 groups representing 120,000 people have joined the coalition, which is urging Chilliwack city council not to rezone the industrial site that Aevitas has selected for its next plant.

Final reading of the rezoning application is expected this week, and so far council hasn't blinked. But Mr. Clapton said the opposition is growing – and if Chilliwack council won't stop the plant, the protesters will continue their fight at the provincial level.

Chilliwack council eagerly embraced Aevitas when the company proposed building on Cannor Road, just off Highway 1. But elected officials did a poor job of informing the public, and they appear blind to the obvious environmental risk of locating a hazardous waste facility in a flood zone.

A staff report on the rezoning application makes no mention of the threat to the Fraser. Indeed, the report doesn't even mention the Fraser, which flows past "just a stone's throw away," as Mr. Clapton puts it.

"The biggest fear would be an accident, whether by human or mechanical error," he said. "Another big concern is that all the material being processed will be trucked into the facility. That means you've got material coming from the Number 1 freeway and crossing the Vedder Canal bridge," said Mr. Clapton, who has seen semi-trailer trucks upside down in the canal, which flows into the Fraser just downstream from the proposed site. "So between the handling in the facility and the transporting in and out, it's just fraught with peril."

He's also worried about the possibility of pollutants leaching from the site into nearby drainage ditches.

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Aevitas, as Chilliwack council has noted, has a spotless work record. But Mr. Clapton is looking at the volume of material the company is planning to handle each month (350,000 litres of transformer oil, 5,000 litres of oil with PCBs, 50 tons of transformers containing PCBs, and 500,000 lamps containing mercury) and he thinks it is just too risky.

River conservationist Mark Angelo, who has spent much of his life fighting to protect the Fraser, agrees.

"To propose such a facility on the banks of this great river is certainly not consistent with the need for a precautionary approach to managing and protecting this part of the Fraser, one of the most productive stretches of river anywhere on Earth," he said in an e-mail.

Chilliwack council's staff report points out that the site "is within the protected area of the Fraser River flood plain," which means it is behind a string of dikes. And on its website, the city states a restrictive covenant requires the company to cease operations and remove all hazardous material, when the B.C. River Forecast Centre reports a level of eight metres at a water gauge in Mission. At that height, the Fraser would be near the tops of dikes and it might be difficult to clean out a hazardous waste plant in time. In the terrible flood of 1948, when 16,000 people fled the Fraser valley, the worst damage came when dikes unexpectedly collapsed.

Aevitas's safe work record speaks for itself. But the bank of the Fraser River is not the right place for even a good hazardous waste plant.

Follow me on Twitter: @markhumeglobe

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