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A plan to burn creosote-soaked railway ties to generate electricity inside Kamloops city limits must overcome at least two hurdles: the need for an air-pollution emission permit from the province, and vehement public backlash that continues to spread.

The community opposition is fuelled by worries about the health effects of burning creosote, distilled from coal tar and used as a wood preservative, in a facility so close to residences in the city of nearly 90,000.

"The location is very central in the base of the valley, literally within hundreds of yards of housing," said Kamloops Councillor John O'Fee. "So what if this is not working properly, what if we are sending heavy metals into the air and don't know about its effects for 10 years?"

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Manitoba-based Aboriginal Cogeneration Corporation is proposing to feed chipped ties from Canadian Pacific Railway into a furnace that would produce a synthetic gas. The gas would in turn be burned to produce electricity.

On Aug. 24, the B.C. Ministry of Environment received ACC's air-permit application for the project, the single major provincial regulatory hurdle the company will have to clear.

The corporation has already signed a 10-year contract with the Canadian Pacific Railway that could see 250,000 railway ties from across British Columbia, Alberta and Saskatchewan transported to Kamloops for disposal each year.

About a week after the permit application was made, Mr. O'Fee and the rest of Kamloops City Council unanimously voted to advise the province against approving the permit - a purely symbolic dissent.

But David Duckworth, Kamloops's director of public works and utilities, said the city does have some control over the project, since its liquid and solid waste will be subject to regular city testing and must conform to Kamloops's disposal standards in order to use the sewer and landfill systems.

"If those tests results ever indicated that they exceed our limits, they would have to cease operations," he said.

Nikhil Patel, a research scientist and engineer at the University of North Dakota who led the development and testing of the technology used in the project, said railway ties have historically been difficult to dispose of because they contain significant amounts of coal tar.

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Dr. Patel said the proposed Kamloops plant, a demonstration site for the technology, would minimize the discharge of waste such as ash by feeding it back into the combustion process.

Still, the smokestack will emit water, carbon dioxide and trace quantities of carbon monoxide, sulphur dioxide and a combination of nitrogen oxide and dioxide, he said.

A groundswell of opposition has emerged since August, when the plan became widely known around Kamloops. An ACC executive refused comment, except to note frustration with the backlash.

ACC received $2.7-million from the federal government's Sustainable Development Technology Canada Tech Fund and $1.5-million from B.C.'s Innovative Clean Energy Fund to develop the project.

Locals have also questioned the $2.7-million given to the ACC by the federal government's Sustainable Development Technology Canada Tech Fund in March, in addition to up to $1.5-million in funding announced in April from the provincial government's Innovative Clean Energy Fund - all to develop this project.

"Instead of giving all this money, why hasn't this been properly field tested to commercial scale where there is no city, using something that isn't as hazardous as creosote?" asked Kamloops resident Lorna Williams. "I don't understand why they're using the people of Kamloops as guinea pigs."

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