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City looking into privately owned digester

By Chris Jones/The Oshawa Express

City staff are investigating the possibility of opening a privately owned anaerobic digester in Oshawa.

Iain Donnell of Donnell Law Group spoke to council on behalf of his clients at 1515 Thornton Road, Evergreen Environmental Inc., on the possibility of the digester, which he says would replace the “older, antiquated method of composting.”

He was concerned with the “fairness” of council’s approach, especially as regional council recently approved an anaerobic digester in Clarington.

“It took us by surprise that the report from council… did not support anaerobic digestion,” he says.

He emphasized the process will be the same as that of the region at the Oshawa anaerobic digester with one exception – they would not be burning waste.

“We believe our process is superior to what’s going forward [in Clarington],” he says.

As the facility would be privately owned and not funded by taxpayers, Donnell says it would not be in competition with the region’s new facility.

He says if the city endorses the Oshawa-based facility, they’ll be dealing with the needs of Oshawa first.

“It’s City of Oshawa first,” he says.

Ultimately, he wants to know what has to be done to get approval, and says he believes his organization is the correct choice.

“Look at the facts, weigh the options, and come to the proper decision. We are the proper decision,” he says.

However, several councillors were left with questions after Donnell’s presentation, beginning with Ward 1 City Councillor Rosemary McConkey.

She questioned if the organization would be picking up waste from Oshawa residents, or if the company would be relying on the city to coordinate waste pick-up.

While Donnell didn’t have the exact answer to her question, he says the company is hoping to coordinate with the City of Oshawa, and they are “open to suggestions.”

She also questioned Donnell’s claim the company won’t be in competition with the region.

McConkey asked if there will be enough waste to accommodate two facilities in the region.

Donnell says he believes there’s never enough ways to get rid of garbage.

“We believe there is a need, and we have a facility, and we’re up and running, and we’re prepared to deal with it,” he says.

Speaking to Commissioner of Development Services Warren Munro, McConkey asked if staff had ever visited an anaerobic digester before, citing her concern over the potential smell.

Munro says while staff had initially planned to visit multiple anaerobic digesters in order to help better understand them, the COVID-19 pandemic got in the way and they were only able to visit one in Elmira, Ont.

He explains while the site was “benign,” when the doors opened to let a truck in, the smell became evident.

According to Munro, the site is currently subject to an interim control bylaw, meaning development there has been temporarily frozen. Because of this, an anaerobic digester is currently not an approved use of the site. Munro says city staff are reviewing their options on how to move forward in their investigation post-COVID-19. The report is expected before the end of the interim control bylaw expires next year.

Ultimately, council voted to receive Donnell’s request to council for information, and voted to request the Ministry of Environment, Conservation, and Parks not approve any Environmental Compliance Approval applications for the time being until the city can complete its own research.