Neighbours rally against proposed biofuel plant on Semiahmoo First Nation’s land

Click to play video: 'Opposition grows to proposed First Nations biofuel facility in Surrey'
Opposition grows to proposed First Nations biofuel facility in Surrey
There is growing opposition to a proposed biofuel plant that could be built on Semiahmoo First Nations land near the Peace Arch border. Janet Brown reports. – Oct 11, 2023

Some South Surrey residents are rallying in opposition to a proposed plant to turn food waste into natural gas on the Semiahmoo First Nation’s reserve lands.

The proposed plant would be located at the south ends of the nation’s lands, across Highway 99 from the Hills and Portal Golf Club and just north of the Peace Arch border crossing.

Andion Global, the company partnering with the Semiahmoo on the proposal, says the project would divert 70,000 tonnes of organic food waste from landfills every year, while generating enough natural gas to power 37,000 homes, while eliminating 55,000 tonnes of greenhouse gas emissions annually.

The nation has negotiated deals with local grocery stores and restaurants to supply the plant with food waste that would normally end up in landfills.

Click to play video: 'An inside look at B.C.’s only biofuel facility'
An inside look at B.C.’s only biofuel facility

A group of nearby residents have come out strongly in opposition to the project, raising concerns about potential harmful pollutants, as well as the prospect of offensive smells the plant could produce.

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“This is an industrial operation. It’s set right in the heart of (a) high-density residential neighbourhood, with a breeze that comes in off the ocean and is going to flow right over us,” project opponent Jim Gouk told Global News.

Gouk said proponents acknowledge the plant will produce chemicals such as nitrous oxide and hydrogen sulfide, and that they haven’t been able to get a clear answer from Andion about the concentration of particulate in the air.

They’re also worried about the smell.

“We’ve had varying different messages from them. One of them is it will only really smell bad in the fall and the winter when most people don’t go outside anyway,” he said.

“And then they started telling us its not that bad, and you will get used to it. You will gradually not notice it anymore.”

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Environmentalists cry foul over logging for biofuel company

Gouk said locals don’t have faith in air quality modelling the company has produced showing limited impacts.

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Andion asserts that in the “unlikely” worst case scenario, no odour would be detectable 98 per cent of the time, with data showing it would be of greatest concern overnight and in the winter, when windows are closed and people are indoors. The company has also pledged an “odour management plan.”

The company acknowledges there could be cases of moderate odour up to seven times per year at the golf club and Peace Arch Park, and said cases of strong odour would be limited to the eastern western edge of the golf course closest to the plant. It projected no strong odours at any residence.

Harley Chappell, elected Chief of the Semiahmoo First Nation, said the plant would be the first of its kind in North America, and provide a “win-win” for the community.

The plant would reduce waste while providing revenue and up to 14 jobs for the First Nation, he added, while reducing both Semiahmoo and the local community’s dependence on major industry for energy.

“When we look at being self-sufficient, when we look at how do we ultimately, at the end of the day, be the skippers of our own canoes here and not reliant on federal grants and federal funding, we have to be creative,” he said.

“We would look at not only what is our responsibility in environmental protection, but also how are we giving back to our community, how are be bringing something good, and creative and innovative to our neck of the woods here in our traditional territory to ensure that we are not shipping our waste, shipping our garbage, somewhere else and we are able to deal with some of that locally.’

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Click to play video: 'New ‘closed-loop’ biofuel facility in Surrey'
New ‘closed-loop’ biofuel facility in Surrey

Chappell added that the nation was also working to ensure the smallest possible impact from the project, noting that its own members would be neighbours to the plant as well.

“Obviously we are assuring every check and balance is being made here,” he said.

“We need to make sure our community member sand elders and children are safe, and we want no inconvenience to our own and our neighbours.”

Noise and traffic concerns, he said, would be mitigated by all major operations taking place at night.

The project is still undergoing permit review by Metro Vancouver and the Greater Vancouver Sewerage and Drainage District.

It is also still undergoing environmental review by Natural Resources Canada, Indigenous Services Canada and the Canada Infrastructure Bank, which are accepting public comments on the proposal until Oct. 14.

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Gouk said opponents have collected more than 4,000 signatures on a petition opposing the plan, and suggested the facility would be better located on the lands of the Vancouver Landfill in Delta.

“It’s not ‘not in my backyard’ situation. It’s just a completely inappropriate facility to have here,” he said.

“It is so incredibly close. It’s not just that there are neighbours somewhere within a few miles, there are neighbours across the street. And that is just ridiculous to put a plant like this in a place like that when there’s such a more appropriate property readily available.”

Chappell, however, maintained the project will bring benefits both to his nation and to the broader community.

“This is a very small footprint, very small lifespan of this project, only being 25 years, and the good it brings back to the community and the benefits of not shipping our trash,” he said.

“Even if we can manage and deal with a small portion of that I think would be a good thing here.”

Chappell said the nation hopes to break ground on the biofuel plant by next summer, with a completion date of 2026.

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