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Port Authority OKs ethanol plant

By Geoff Zochodne and Lindsey Cole/The Oshawa Express

After years of deliberation, lobbying, debate, protest and negotiation, the Oshawa Port Authority has given the green-light to FarmTech Energy Corporation’s ethanol plant.

The $200 million facility will be built at the port, and create hundreds of jobs, says FarmTech. 

“It’s exciting to see this project, and investment in our community move forward,” states Dan O’Connor, president of FarmTech Energy Corporation. “This modern facility will bring tremendous economic benefits to Oshawa, including 300 construction jobs, 50 well paying full time jobs, and hundreds of industry related jobs in farming, shipping and port operations.”

Oshawa Port Authority member Gary Valcour says the decision was made during a meeting this morning, in-camera.

The approval comes after FarmTech recently pulled out of Agriculture Canada’s ecoABC intiative, which provides repayable loans for projects such as ethanol plants. Funding for the project comes from “privately-financed” investors, says O’Connor. 

As a result of that withdrawal, the ethanol plant’s environmental assessement by the Canadian Environmental Assessment Agency was discontinued. Despite this, Valcour says the board had seen enough to sign off on the project.

“We are satisfied there’s no…significant environmental impact,” explains Valcour. “Due diligence has been done in terms of environmental issues.”

A release from FarmTech argues 12,000 trucks will be kept off the roads, helping to reduce greenhouse gas emissions. And the economic benefits of the ethanol plant are just too great too ignore, claims Valcour.

“It’s a tremendous opportunity to improve the economy of the area,” he says, citing the businesses in the transportation, construction and agricultural sector it can support and the revenues Oshawa, Durham Region, Ontario and Canada would receive with it in operation.

Notwithstanding this, the City of Oshawa is still very much against the plant, says Mayor John Henry.

“Personally, I don’t support this project at all. I’ve made that quite clear,” he notes. The mayor also brought up that the port authority remains short its provincial representative as allotted to it by its letters patent.

“I’m absolutely disgusted. The board is still not entirely approved,” he rails. “I’m truly amazed they could create such an agreement in such a short period of time.”

Mayor Henry says the City was not informed of the decision ahead of time and that Oshawa remains “an unwilling host.”

“They (the port authority) don’t seem to consider that important,” he says. The Mayor and City staff is meeting to discuss their options.

Valcour states the port authority’s job is to make itself sustainable, which it can do with the ethanol plant.

“There are divisions of jurisdiction,” he says. “It’s (the plant) well-suited to be situated on the industrial port lands. The councillors, I would hope, would take the time to review the economic benefits.”

And as for any “nefarious allegations” that the ethanol plant came about because of preferential treatment or favours, such as political contributions made by the O’Connor family and members of the port authority board to various Conservative Party candidates and electoral district associations, including the Whitby-Oshawa EDA Valcour used to chair, Valcour considers the process to have been restarted when the port authority came into effect.

“If people were reading all the reporting they would recognize that the old harbour commission was set aside, that a whole new governance structure was put in place,” he points out. “The end result is what you have.”

When asked about any breaks he may have been given due to his standing with the governing party, O’Connor says “it’s just absurd.”

O’Connor had made several previous donations to the Conservative Party, though none in recent years, and his brother and fellow FarmTech director Tim worked for Finance Minister Jim Flaherty’s EDA, as well as having served as campaign director for MPP Christine Elliott, Flaherty’s wife, in the 2011 provincial election.

“It’s been six years and millions and millions of dollars…I don’t know how anyone can read anymore into that,” says O’Connor. “Any company that would do this is certainly doing it on their own merit and nothing more.

“It’s a deterrent to business and industry that it took us this long to get to this point. There’s investors in this plant…that live in Oshawa. Not everyone is against it. They count too.”

The expected completion date for the ethanol plant would be 2014, with construction to begin this summer, notes the release from FarmTech. It would produce 210 million litres of ethanol annually.

The Oshawa Express will have more updates to come.

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