By Geoff Zochodne/The Oshawa Express
Rumors of the ethanol plant’s demise have been greatly exaggerated, claims the company aiming to build it.
A week after Agriculture Canada informed The Oshawa Express it was no longer seeking federal funding, FarmTech says is still intent on building the facility at the Port of Oshawa.
The company’s recent withdrawal from the federal government’s ecoABC initiative is indicative of nothing but onerous delays and misunderstandings, says FarmTech President Dan O’Connor.
“The withdrawal from the eco-ABC program has no impact on the direction of
our project,” explains O’Connor in an email to The Oshawa Express. “We are committed to bringing this $200 million investment to the port of Oshawa and the many new jobs associated with it.”
The ecoABC initiative offers $25 million repayable contributions for biofuel facilities, provided they were complete by September 30, 2012.
“In order to receive money from the program you need to have the plant built and operating at nameplate capacity, prior to having an operating plant you can't collect a dime from the program,” claims O’Connor. “This program never was considered a ‘source of funding.’”
Even with FarmTech vowing to press on, the Mayor of Oshawa’s opinion remains unchanged.
“We are not a willing host, we do not support ethanol at the port,” states Mayor John Henry, while adding he continues to market the Port of Oshawa to other potential businesses.
Gary Valcour, a member of the Oshawa Port Authority’s board of directors, says the group has had only informal discussions about the ethanol plant. Nevertheless, Valcour says the port authority would “definitely have to consider” looking at the facility.
“We’re trying to be open-minded,” he states. “As I’ve said many times before we have an obligation to consider it.”
And while the City of Oshawa has a representative on the port’s board of directors, City council passed a motion in April “to partner with the Oshawa Port Authority (OPA) and Durham Region to attract economic development alternatives to an ethanol refinery” and even brought the Chinese delegation of Rizhao to view the area, Valcour and O’Connor agree there have been no talks of alternatives between the Port of Oshawa and the City.
“The City of Oshawa hasn’t frankly set any kind of guidelines or parameters for what they’re willing to accept,” states Valcour. “What industries would be acceptable? It’s not our (the port authority’s) job to say no to everything.”
Valcour raised the point that new environmental assessment regulations have been put into place as part of the budget bill implemented by the federal government. With FarmTech now withdrawn from under the supervision of Agriculture Canada, the company would be legislated by the changes made to resource project standards in the budget.
The Canadian Environmental Assessment Act, 2012, governs projects on federal lands, or any project that may adversely impact the environment. Parties must give the Canadian Environmental Assessment Agency (CEAA) a description of their project, after this, the agency has 45 days to determine whether or not an assessment is required. Twenty of those days are devoted to allowing the public to comment.
The agency then has a year to complete an assessment; but potentially another two years for a review panel to evaluate the assessment if it is so appointed by the Ministry of the Environment.
The new legislation can also defer the decision to a provincial process if the Minister of the Environment is satisfied due diligence has been done. Any designated project can be excluded by the federal cabinet from an assessment if it determines a province will do an assessment of its own.
A project like the ethanol plant could fall under a unique part of the new act, if it were not required to undergo another assessment.
“For projects on federal lands that are not designated projects, CEAA 2012 requires that before federal authorities make any decision that would allow a project to proceed, they must determine whether a project is likely to cause significant adverse environmental effects. Federal authorities will report annually to Parliament on the actions taken to fulfill this obligation,” read the highlights of CEAA 2012.
A dirty project can still be saved under the new legislation. Even if a project is deemed likely to cause “significant adverse environmental effects, the federal cabinet will then decide whether these effects are justified in the circumstances.”
No new application for an ethanol plant has been made to the CEAA. Documentation on the environmental registry for the previous application has been removed as well.
Brian Brasier, the executive director for Friends of Second Marsh, the wetlands near where the ethanol plant would be built, called FarmTech’s withdrawal from the ecoABC program “another hopeful signal” the facility won’t be built.
“Even if FarmTech were somehow to take advantage of the new weakened federal environmental requirements, they have already failed twice at receiving provincial approvals and nothing about this project has changed that would merit a different provincial decision,” says Brasier in an email, noting the lands FarmTech wants act as a buffer against the industry already operating at the port.
Brasier claims the Oshawa Port Authority shouldn’t have to support an ethanol plant to sustain itself, as under the Canada Marine Act any port wanting to become a port authority in the first place “is, and is likely to remain, financially self-sufficient.”
“Since this (the creation of the Oshawa Port Authority) was achieved with almost no activity on the Gifford Farmlands then the only reason the OPA would require a major commercial or industrial activity would simply be to fatten its profit margins,” says Brasier, “That’s a very poor excuse to endanger an environmental gem like Second Marsh.”
The continuing furor over the ethanol plant in Oshawa has overshadowed the fact that a willing host for the facility can be found in Brock Township.
“We’ve been interested in an ethanol plant long before this ever started,” says Brock Mayor Terry Clayton. While he has yet to meet with FarmTech, he still hopes to have discussions with the company, “just to let them know we’re not here to interfere, we’re just here to give them an alternative.”