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Incinerator gets go ahead


Following an all-day session of regional council, a majority of councillors voted in favour of modifying the contract with Covanta, the operator of the Durham York Energy Centre. The changes allow Covanta to produce more ash as a result from burning garbage. Covanta had failed its acceptance testing late last year because it had produced more ash than allowed under the contract with the region.

By Graeme McNaughton/The Oshawa Express

The incinerator has been given the green light, but not without some help from regional council and added millions in spending.

After the Durham York Energy Centre was initially not given the go ahead after the acceptance testing period, regional council debated in a closed session and later voted in an open session to change the contract with Covanta, the operator of the Clarington site.

The reason Covanta was at first given a failing grade following acceptance testing was because the amount of ash that was being produced during the burning process was above that in the contract.

According to the contract between the two parties, the amount of ash produced cannot exceed more than 29.7 per cent of the tonnage that is incinerated for the five-day test, and 29.4 per cent for the 30-day test. HDR, the consulting company hired by the region, said Covanta’s ash production amounted to 29.9 per cent for the five-day test and 31.87 per cent for the 30-day test.

Convanta maintained that the extra weight came from added concrete and pozzolan – a natural substance that turns into a concrete-like compound when it comes into contact with water – and that those added substances were necessary in disposing of the ash safely. Those two substances are used to encapsulate the ash and make it safer for transport to a disposal site.

The newly revised contract will bump that number to 35 per cent. The negotiations between the region and Covanta also resulted in the liquidated damages that hadn’t been paid yet for the late completion of the incinerator, being terminated as of Dec. 22, with the operator having to “promptly pay” any outstanding fees.

“Covanta must be pinching themselves,” Linda Gasser, a long-time critic of the incinerator who had spoken in front of council prior to councillors voting on the contract changes, told The Oshawa Express shortly after the vote came from council. “They’ve been given so many passes and now this. This must be their lucky day.”

The final vote, which saw five councillors vote against it, marked the end of an all-day session of regional council that saw one side questioning why people were against the incinerator being granted approval and others questioning council’s choice to change the contract.

Added costs and unresolved issues

In a report presented to councillors prior to the closed session, they learned that the cost for the incinerator had increased to $296 million, up from the $272.5 million originally presented to councillors in 2009. Council had already approved more than $16.5 million in additional spending since 2009.

According to the report, much of the added $6.99 million will be going toward paying HDR ($1.1 million) and for further site servicing costs ($5.63 million).

Oshawa councillor Nancy Diamond voiced her concern for the amount of items that still needed to be addressed at the incinerator at this stage of development.

“Look at all the things that have still not been resolved: steam temperature and boiler modifications, CO and VLN NOx optimization, boiler water quality and quantity issues, ACC repairs and testing, oversight of extended shutdown outage activities, stack tests and repeat of dioxin and furan tests, ECA compliance review and tracking, life cycle repairs assessment…Hydro Ontario issues, turbine generator issues,” she said on the council floor. “Just in itself, it speaks to, in the vernacular, how many Band-Aids are being put on this process to have it move forward. I’m extremely concerned that we’re already a year past when it was supposed to be completed and the compliance testing done, but there are still issues in this report.”

Another added cost facing councillors was an invoice from Covanta for $1.8 million for bypassing waste from the incinerator to a landfill site while the Clarington site was down.

“We’ve been proceeding on the assumption, or at least I’ve heard it stated several times that once the waste was delivered to Covanta, that it was their issue. Now I’m reading we could potentially be on the hook for ($1.8 million) in bypass waste costs, so I guess I’m asking surely that’s something one would think…I assume we paid a lot of money out for that expert advice on negotiating the contract, this is something that I would’ve thought, or at least someone would’ve thought about that,” said Clarington councillor Joe Neal during the session of council.

A lawyer retained by the region replied that an answer as to why the region was now on the hook for the added cost said an answer could be provided during the closed portion of the meeting.

In the recommendation later voted on by council, that amount was dropped to $1.1 million, and would have to be paid by Covanta.

Behind closed doors

Debate on the future of the incinerator took place in a closed session with councillors, with the region claiming legal opinions from lawyers it has retained on the issue would be presented.

Several councillors disagreed with that notion, stating the information that would be coming out behind closed doors should be known to the public.

“I must express my enormous concern that any of this is to be considered in a closed meeting,” Diamond stated shortly before the council doors were closed to the public. “This information should be public. It should not be split off. I noticed in the confidential report how many times it said why this was so important. I believe that the public information is more important than those issues. The public should have the opportunity to speak to it.”

Gasser, who was in attendance for the day’s proceedings, voiced her concern to The Oshawa Express during the closed session.

“I’m beyond frustrated. I’m concerned that (regional chair) Roger Anderson said he wants this done this year, and I’m sure others want it out of the media and out of the public eye,” she said. “I don’t think council has been provided with enough information for them to decide whether it can be open for the next 20 years. This is the time the region should be dotting their i’s and crossing their t’s.”

Several councillors continued to voice their concern on the secrecy surrounding the reasons leading to council’s eventual motion to modify the contract with Covanta.

“I want to make it abundantly clear that I do not support amending this agreement. I think it’s wrong to mix up regulatory issues with money and I think this is setting a bad precedent over what’s going to happen for the lifetime of this project. I totally disagree with the idea that we’re supposed to be having a debate, yet we can’t even get into the details of it (because) that’s in closed session,” Neal said.

“I think that’s going to have to get ruled on by somebody other than the people in this room because I think that’s totally wrong in terms of openness and transparency under Section 244 of the Municipal Act. We have a duty as councillors to ensure that the staff are carrying on their business in an open and transparent manner. If this is open and transparent, then I guess I don’t know anything about that whole concept.”

Other councillors, however, said that the end result of the vote – which would eventually lead to the approval of the incinerator going into commercial operation – would benefit the region at the end of the day.

“This report that’s going to be voted on, and I didn’t say anything (in the closed session) because enough was said as far as I was concerned, but the change that’s going to be voted on is not going to have a detrimental effect on the environment or health,” Pickering councillor Bill McLean said.

“What it’s going to have is a positive influence. The other items that we’re talking about…is items that have been disputed between Covanta and the region, and this is going to be resolved. So to me, this is a win-win, and I can’t see why we wouldn’t support this.”

Regional chair Roger Anderson also voiced his pleasure for the project moving forward, but added his displeasure for how the media has covered the incinerator.

“There’s not anybody in this council who can’t walk out of these chambers and say that the emissions on this plant are the best in the world. Not in Ontario, not in Durham, not in Canada, not in North America, but in the world. And I don’t know if that lady from the Toronto Star is still here and I wish she was because that’s the headline,” he said. “I feel really bad for Clarington only because…about the communication. Staff do it, we’ve held numerous public events in Clarington, many waste fairs in Clarington, put up (incinerator) information everywhere in Clarington. I can’t help with how the media does a headline.”

The motion passes

After the motion passed for the contract with Covanta to be changed, with Oshawa councillors Nancy Diamond and John Neal, along with Clarington councillors Adrian Foster, Joe Neal and Willie Woo voting against, the region had two days to issue the acceptance certificate. It did so the following day.

Speaking with The Oshawa Express after the ammendment was passed, Foster – also the mayor of Clarington – said he still had issues surrounding the facility, but knew this would be the result.

“It was predictable. I’m not surprised and, to use the expression, it is what it is,” he said. “The changes do not impact human health and safety or environmental risks, at all. My concern was more around…comfort. The comfort that there will be communication. The public do not understand that the emissions are falling within the guidelines, and that has not been communicated particularly well. And you may have heard that it’s not my problem. Well, it is.”

According to the acceptance test report completed by HDR in December, Covanta met all of the environmental regulations at the incinerator. The first stack test, which showed dioxins and furans at levels far above provincial regulations, was tossed out after it was found there was interference in the test samples. The two following stack tests were within provincial regulations.

Another point of contention for Foster is the Host Community Agreement Clarington has with the region, with Anderson mentioning earlier in the session the millions of dollars going to the municipality as a result of the incinerator being located there.

“(I was also) looking for closure for Clarington. Again, looking for comfort, not looking for any agreement or a deal, and there’s absolutely no comfort. You may have heard how Clarington got $9 million out of that agreement. Well, no. There is not $9 million in the bank account,” he said. “Things like part of the $9 million in improvements was the visitor centre, and that’s $5 million out of the $9 million. That has nothing to do with us. It would’ve been nice to get comfort, and I think I set that bar fairly low and it didn’t even get over that bar.”

With the session of council stretching into the afternoon hours, several councillors left chambers to attend to other business – something that one Oshawa councillor said was ridiculous considering the amount of money being spent.

“I feel the figure given to me by finance staff of ($296 million) is worth being here and worth being discussed. We spent a few thousand dollars over at the city, and debated that for over an hour,” John Neal told The Oshawa Express, referencing a debate by Oshawa city councillors during budget deliberations of spending $10,000 to send an employee for an educational course. “If you want to take that into consideration and the amounts of money that are being debated, I mean holy smokes, this is incredible.”

Neal added that with the issues the incinerator has already faced, it will mean that $296 million in costs cited earlier in the day is only going to up.

“We’re a year late, and as far as I’m concerned, we’re always going to have issues. They admitted today, moving forward, we’re going to have issues, so there’s going to be more costs involved,” he said. “So I guess the taxpayers can eat it because that $296 million was for infrastructure and it should’ve went into our roads and our ageing infrastructure. Instead, it went into this.”