A biology professor at Mount Allison University asked Sackville Town Council last night to reconsider a bylaw change that cleared the way for building a plastic pipe factory on Walker Road.
“You have it in your power to put together a motion to look at this again,” Matt Litvak said during his presentation to council.
Littvak, who lives in the Walker Road area, was accompanied by about a dozen of his neighbours.
He argued that council needs to reconsider the bylaw change because none of the residents knew anything in advance about plans for a plastics factory.
“There was really no posting or notification on the town web page,” Litvak said.
“There was no posting on the zones that were affected,” he added, and that’s why, he suggested, no one showed up at a public hearing on March 14 to object to clearing the way for a plastics factory that could, among other things, threaten residents’ wells and the town’s water supply.
Litvak noted that even though Councillor Sabine Dietz expressed concerns that no one had attended the public hearing, council took no action to defer voting on the bylaw change so that citizens could learn what was happening and register their objections.
The amended bylaw, that council finally approved on April 11, allows for projects to go ahead in the 177 acre Walker Road industrial park even though there are no town water or sewer services there.
Litvak was one of 35 residents who signed a letter to town council on May 16 expressing alarm about the pipe factory after heavy equipment began clearing and levelling the 18.5 acre site to prepare it for construction.
Atlantic Industries Ltd. (AIL) is planning to manufacture and store high-density polyethylene (HDPE) pipe there.
Litvak said he hoped that, at the very least, council would invite AIL to make a public presentation of its plans so that people could judge the risks and benefits for themselves.
He also showed a slide summarizing citizens’ concerns:
Litvak said he consulted a provincial hydrologist to confirm that surface water in the area flows from higher elevations near the site of the pipe factory to lower ones where residents depend on wells.
“The water that flows along the side of the [TransCanada] highway is water that will eventually meet the Ogden Mill Brook,” he said, “and that water flows directly into Silver Lake.”
Environmental engineer Bonnie Swift, who also lives in the Walker Road area, addressed council on fire risks associated with combustible dust explosions.
“There were 180 of these in the last six years,” she said.
“Unfortunately, plastics manufacturing is in the top 10 of the type of industries that can cause this type of event.”
She said plastics fires release toxic chemicals harmful to human health that can settle on surface waters, on crops and soil and eventually migrate into groundwater.
Swift also said that plastics fires are extremely difficult to extinguish and require specialized training and equipment to fight as well as water and chemicals.
She pointed out that there are no fire hydrants in the area and that the pipe factory exit is across from Beech Hill Park.
“If there were people in the park and there was a major explosion or a fire, getting those people out of the park could be very difficult because the exits are right across from each other and there’s only one exit out of Beech Hill Park.”
She urged members of town council to meet with the fire department to discuss an emergency plan if the pipe factory goes ahead.
CAO and council response
CAO Jamie Burke thanked Litvak and Swift for their presentations and noted that municipalities struggle with notifying the public about bylaw changes such as this.
He said the province’s Community Planning Act requires the town to post a notice on its website.
In this case, the town’s website notice did not mention the AIL pipe manufacturing factory, only the bylaw change because it applies to the entire 177-acre area that was zoned industrial in 2008.
Councillors Bill Evans and Allison Butcher said they weren’t aware that the bylaw amendment would clear the way for the plastics factory and that, in any case, the AIL project would be assessed on its own merits when the company applies for building and development permits that must comply with town bylaws as well as provincial environmental regulations.
For his part, CAO Burke cautioned town councillors not to reconsider the bylaw change.
“I wouldn’t want anybody thinking after the presentation today that you have the power I guess to say ‘no’ to what’s been presented,” he said in an apparent reference to the AIL project.
“You don’t [have the power] and I want to make sure that’s clear, that you don’t go down that path,” Burke added.
“We, as a municipality, are not meant to stifle or get in the way of development.”
Councillors Butcher, Evans and Michael Tower echoed Burke’s argument that the developer has a right to build the plastic pipe factory as long as AIL follows the rules.
Councillor Tower said he had spoken to the fire chief and that he has no major concerns.
Councillor Sabine Dietz said that she personally felt bad that residents weren’t notified about the project, but added that council can’t revisit a motion once it has been passed and acted upon.
Councillor Bruce Phinney said he felt the residents’ concerns had not been answered and that he would follow up on their suggestion to consult the fire department on its emergency preparations.
After the meeting, Matt Litvak suggested the story isn’t over yet.
“We’ll see what happens when it goes up through the province’s process,” he said during an interview outside the council chamber.
“Hopefully, they’ll take into consideration the risks and mitigation of risks associated with a development like this,” he added.
“The reality is this, we don’t even know what the development truly is. I mean we get some tidbits on Facebook and on the AIL website,” Litvak said.
“It would be really nice to have an open-forum discussion as to what’s going on to truly discuss the risks associated with a development like this in a basically residential community.”
Note: On May 24, AIL CEO Mike Wilson wrote a short, two-page letter to town planner Lori Bickford stating the company’s Walker Road plant “will require only small amounts of water from a water well on the property.” The letter said the materials from the high-density polyethylene manufacturing process “do not leach hazardous chemicals” and that “there are no fluids leaving the building or air born (sic) fumes.” Bickford shared the letter with town council and after checking with Wilson, she got his permission to release it to Warktimes. To read it, click here.