Williams Lake City Council unanimously approved a development permit for Pinnacle Pellet’s proposed upgrade and expansion despite opponents arguing the company needs to move from its current location.
“My son can’t believe that I’m here right now and neither can I, but it is because of my kids that I am,” said Robin Fofinoff who lives at the end of South Lakeside at Tuesday’s public hearing.
“I’m totally not against Pinnacle Pellet and I’m totally in agreeance that we need jobs in Williams Lake, I just really believe that it needs to move somewhere else and I don’t know how else to say it. I keep trying to be more eloquent in letters or emails that I try to write, but out of all the years that it’s been here I’m getting angrier. When I drive in from work that’s all I see and when I come home from vacations that’s what I see, and I really feel that if we keep it there we’re going to lose a lot of people in Williams Lake and they’re not going to want to come.”
Fofinoff said she believed Pinnacle’s location into a more industrial area rather than a commercial area would be more viable for Williams Lake when Mayor Walt Cobb asked her if she had any suggestions on where it could be relocated.
“As we all know when this operation started in 2004 we basically had a significant number of different fiber baskets that the operation was processing at,” said Pinnacle Pellet general manager of operations Ron Myhre who has been a resident of Williams Lake since 1970.
“Now where we’re at today we are having to look at a completely different fiber basket with a lot of residuals from the forest that the operation was not built or designed to process. We’re pursuing these upgrades to implement the best in class technology and again with our drying capacity having to go and reach into a different fiber basket the operation was not designed to process we need more drying capacity. In order for our operation to be viable in this community, we really need to move forward with having the opportunity to put this new drying system in place.”
Myhre added that the upgrades would consume a wider variety of fiber types including hog fuel and that they are looking at utilizing forest biomass that is leftover by logging and would otherwise be burned in the bush.
“Again we are looking far and wide for these types of opportunities, and we’re working with local first nations groups, Tsideldel being one, and really getting into the local forest,” he said.
“We’re also going to be able to consume the burned trees and support the reforestation of these affected areas from our 2017 fires. We’re investing in the forest industry when many are having downturns.”
As for the concerns of community members, Myhre said Pinnacle had sessions with the community and has listened to what those concerns are and will make the remedial actions to prevent the migration of fugitive dust.
Resident Margaret Anne Enders who read from a letter she had submitted to the City in April said after attending the open house by Pinnacle Pellet she had left with many unanswered questions.
“We live on Tower Cresenet so we have a good view of the pellet plant and the valley and this issue is important to not only ourselves but for all the citizens who live here and breathe the air,” Enders said noting her concerns relate to the noise from the plant and the already poor air quality in Williams Lake.
“Right in the middle of town by the lake is not for industry,” Enders added.
“I think if Williams Lake is serious about attracting people and improving our image then we should seriously consider requiring the plant to move to an industrial area near the dairy fields or up out of the valley.”
Another resident called Pinnacle nothing more than an ‘eyesore’ and said it’s time for them to move, while another resident suggested if the plant is kept in the middle of the city to look at ways of ‘camouflaging’ themselves so that you don’t know the industry even exists in the City.
“Businesses like this exist in Europe and you can walk right through a neighborhood that has a big industrial plant that you don’t even know that it’s there,” he said.
“Now if they can do that in Europe why can’t they do it here. The only reason is you’re not insisting that they hide their emissions, their noise, and they keep their dust level down, and they control things a little bit better. We also need a barrier around it so that you can’t even see it.”
Board Director for Tsi Del Del Enterprises and also Central Chilcotin Rehabilitation (CCR), Percy Guichon meanwhile said he was in full support of the proposed upgrades and expansion.
“Tsi Del Del Enterprise and CCR currently provide biomass to Pinnacle Pellet and pulpwood to West Fraser pulp mill in Quesnel so these two projects over the summer have kept our communities working in this downturn in the forest industry, and we’ve managed to keep most of our 100 plus employees and contractors working ” he said.
“Tsi Del Del Enterprises also just signed an agreement with the WLIB last week and we’re working together to create more opportunities by utilizing slash piles left from salvaged and burnt fir to create biomass for Pinnacle Pellet and Atlantic POwer. These projects not only have a positive impact on the local economy by creating and maintaining jobs and revenue, but there are other significant impacts as well.”
Council unanimously approves development permit pending issuance of amended air quality permit from Ministry of Environment and approval of storm drainage design by City Engineer
Following the public hearing, Councillor Jason Ryll said while he agreed with opponents and understands where some of the animosity is coming from in regards to the appearance of Pinnacle and its location, he did not from a business perspective understand the logistics of relocating an industry from where it is at.
“I cannot see the feasibility behind asking this industry or this specific business to move from its current location because of its appearance. If we ask Pinnacle to move, what worries me is that they will definitely do that and move to a different community,” he said.
“They’re a multi-million dollar operation and picking them up and moving them to a new location is a great notion. I wish we could do that, but I don’t know what tools we would have at our disposal in order to make that happen. As a multi-million-dollar operation, I’m also aware that what they pay in their fiber supply agreements in place equate to the total payrolls of both major mills so if we force upon Pinnacle to take on a cost-prohibitive venture that threatens not only the jobs of Pinnacle but it threatens the jobs of the community at large that are based in forestry, and our forestry sector is not retracting as quickly as we see it in others.”
Councillor Sheila Boehm said while she agreed with the community she also agreed with Ryll that she was unsure if moving Pinnacle from its current location would be feasible.
“One thing we did do was meet with the Ministry about the environment and we asked them to come and talk to us about that because that was huge for me,” she added.
Councillor Marnie Brenner whose background is health said from their meeting they had learned that a lot of the emissions are steam.
“So by doing the upgrades, the site alternations, it’s actually meant to decrease the emissions,” Brenner said.
“I also really appreciate the fact that this is a company that is working with our first nation partners, that are increasing jobs that are allowing people in our community to keep working when times are tough. I don’t think there’s an easy way, I would be really interested in knowing a ballpark figure of the costs of moving it and who’s going to foot that bill.”
Mayor Walt Cobb agreed that if Pinnacle could move it would be the best case scenario.
“But if it doesn’t move it means what we have will continue,” he said.
“What they’re planning is going to be an upgrade, there’s going to be a less environmental impact, and we’ll also be able to save the jobs at the same time. When that was zoned industrial many, many years ago that was out of town; there was a little wooden bridge across there and there was nobody over there. It kind of reminds me of the farmers in the lower mainland where they built subdivisions all around them and now they’re complaining about the stink from the farms.”
Councillor Scott Nelson said whether Pinnacle’s operations is on South Lakeside or on the north end connector, it still has to meet the requirements of the provincial government through the Ministry of Environment.
“We recognize that Pinnacle Pellet has a public image problem. Ten years ago you didn’t have Walmart up there, you didn’t have the Canadian Tire over there, and people drive by there every day. That has become a major commercial zone and there is a massive amount of dust that comes off that particular site onto the road and it creates havoc,” he said.
“We raised those issues with Pinnacle and said these issues need to be corrected. We need to put in monitoring, we need to make sure that if this proceeds and is approved that the parking lot is paved.”
Nelson added that the City put in a dozen or conditions that Pinnacle must meet.
Councillor Craig Smith said he lives of South Lakeside and walks to Pinnacle and back to his house every day with his dog.
“I do see everything that people see. Unfortunately like Councillor Ryll said there is no win here and if we do ask Pinnacle to move are we going to ask United Concrete to move? are we going to ask Parallel to move? are we going to ask all of the reloading that’s off to the side of RC Cotton to move? I mean we’re talking millions of dollars to be able to do that and there’s no way on earth the City can do it,” he said.
“As Councillor Nelson said we put in a lot of stipulations in and we’re also covered with the Good Neighbour Bylaw for a lot of the things such as the dust that they’re going to be addressing. Part of their deal too is to set up some landscaping so it will block what you’re seeing. As much as I would like them to be in a different spot, I have to support a company that is willing to work with the City and is bringing the jobs here.”