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Region one step closer to anaerobic digester

By Chris Jones/The Oshawa Express

The region is closer to beginning construction on an anaerobic digester.

Staff have expressed an interest in working with Edmonton-based company Epcor Utilities Inc.

At a recent committee of the whole meeting, staff asked council for approval to begin negotiations with Epcor.

Epcor was founded 125 years ago in Edmonton, and is Canada’s first municipally-owned electric and utility company.

Today the company provides water, wastewater, drainage services, and energy to its customers.

The organization has also expanded its customer base outside of Canada, doing some work in the United States as well.

Nancy Taylor, Durham’s commissioner of finance, says the region was deciding between two companies – Epcor and Meridian.

Taylor explains Epcor was chosen because of the company’s “sophisticated level of understanding” of long-term organics management, which is what the region is looking for.

According to interim commissioner of works, John Presta, Epcor profile compliments the region well.

“They have a good understanding of where to allocate risk,” said Presta.

He also believes Epcor is a good fit because the organization is a separate municipal corporation, and has already spent time in the corporate market.

Currently the anaerobic digester is projected to cost $165 million, said Durham CAO Elaine Baxter-Trahair.

The next steps include picking a site, and looking at utilities.

According to staff, there are social and environmental issues to take into account, as well as transportation, and land use compatibility.

The space  needs to be eight to 15 hectares, and owned by the region.

Clarington councillor Joe Neal wondered if Epcor had any involvement in the Edmonton Waste Management Centre, which he said has seen its fair share of problems.

He also queried about why a company based in Edmonton would want to work in Durham.

While Presta said he would follow up on both, he was quick to point out Epcor is a large company, not just local in Alberta.

“Just because Epcor operates out of Edmonton, it doesn’t mean they do everything there,” he said.

Granville Anderson, also from Clarington, wanted assurance there would be public input into the location.

Staff confirmed the public will have plenty of opportunities to provide feedback.

Clarington Mayor Adrian Foster noted his municipality has all of the necessary attributes for the anaerobic digester.

He believes the list of potential sites is very small due to the requirements of the project.

“I’m thinking this is a really limited list,” he said.

He wanted to know if staff had narrowed down the list of potential sites.

Staff noted there is no final short list at the moment, but it is in development.

Neal then raised an amendment, asking all Durham municipalities to share the burden of waste processing.

“I don’t think that we should expect any one municipality to take on this burden for every municipality,” said Foster.

Yet, Presta felt staff were already doing this.

“I feel that we’re addressing the intent of this amendment through the consideration of the criteria that exists… in the report,” said Presta.

Whitby Mayor Don Mitchell noted he felt it is premature to bring this up, as there are too many issues to address.

“Let’s get some good information so we can come back and make an informed decision,” he said.

Pickering councillor Bill McLean felt the same, noting it is “too much too soon.”

Neal said Clarington has already shouldered a large burden by taking on the incinerator.

He noted every household in Durham produces waste, and wondered if it is fair for all the waste to end up in one municipality.

“If you vote no on this, I guess you’re saying you’re in favour of this burden being shared inequitably,” said Neal.

Neal’s amendment was defeated.

After some restless discussion between the councillors, Neal proposed another amendment.

He asked for staff to report on the involvement of Epcor at the facility in Edmonton.

Despite already receiving a promise from Presta, Neal said he wanted a formal promise.

Presta hopes to have the report in front of council before its next meeting.

Neal’s second attempt at an amendment was carried.

The issue will now move on to the regional council meeting held on Wednesday, Sept. 25.