Emotions ran high at the public hearing into a proposed pellet plant Tuesday, as Chase council took criticism from locals regarding the proposal.
This second part of the public hearing, with the first on Oct. 1, saw another packed house, another long line of speakers and another list of concerns regarding the pellet plant coming to town or, on the other hand, council potentially missing the opportunity of allowing it to come to town.
The meeting also saw local elected officials, particularly Mayor Ron Anderson, taking heat over comments some residents claim he made over the previous weeks.
Several residents spoke about claims that Anderson had been heard telling people that the proposed pellet plant is ‘a done deal.’
Residents expressed their dissatisfaction with the idea that their mayor had already made up his mind before the process had been completed, and before the second scheduled part of the public hearing.
Several asked what the point of having the hearing was if, indeed, it was a done deal either way.
The scoldings continued as the meeting, which tipped two hours, pressed on.
The system is corrupted, residents remarked, questioning the fairness of the process.
Anderson did not comment at the hearing, but denied the allegations Wednesday morning when contacted by the Shuswap Market News.
He said the claims are not true and he would not say such a thing.
Anderson said he believes the public hearings have gone quite well and he welcomes the criticism.
“The opposing groups are well organized and there is nothing wrong with that,” Anderson said.
He continued by noting that the watchful and critical eye of Chase residents helps council ensure the process is done properly and everyone is well-informed.
Anderson also addressed comments about the understanding that council was initially going to vote on the rezoning a month ago. He noted that because of the sensitivity of the site, an environmental assessment was required before any vote could take place
The assessment required time, which also allowed council to seek more opinions from the public and to tour the site of another pellet plant.
At the hearing, other residents stood up to address the behavior of those doing the criticizing.
“God bless your souls,” an angry resident said loudly, before taking their seat.
Wally Churchill soon stepped up to the mic. With tears in his eyes, he choked out words of gratitude.
“These people helped me,” Churchill said, pointing to the council members.
Churchill described how council helped him after his home burned and he lost everything in the Whispering Pines fire last year.
He noted that he knew every member of council, and trusted that they would keep the best interests of Chase in mind as they made their decision.
The first part of the hearing continued with many stepping up to express their concerns against the pellet plant, or council, or both.
Two residents submitted a video that showed clips of Chase residents making statements against the pellet plant in Chase, as well as a short interview with the owner of the Williams Lake Canadian Tire.
The businessman expressed his concerns regarding dust in the air, showing his car window and explaining that it gets covered with a film of dust each day.
He talked about water problems on the store property which he attributed to the local pellet plant, and expressed a variety of other concerns.
Video clips of the plant were also shown, with smog filling the air, and dark plumes coming from the stacks.
While it seemed that supporters were few and far between, the last half of the night saw a number speak.
Bev Iglesias, a Chase resident and local real estate agent, reminded Chase of its history.
Iglesias explained that not only was Chase a mill town, but it might not exist if it had not been.
She countered the idea that no one will move to Chase if the pellet plant moves in, by pointing out that much of Chase was formed because of the mill, and many of those living here now, moved here while there was a mill.
Iglesias said she tells all her clients about the possibility of a new mill coming to town, and yet she has three new families moving to the area.
While many residents had expressed concerns about deviating from the community plans, and taking away an area which could be used to build residential housing in Chase, Iglesias made another point. She reminded those in attendance that someone had tried to build on that land already; however, the soil proved to be unfit for residential building.
“Nothing would stick,” she said.
Iglesias invited any of those in the gallery to purchase the land and spend the required money to treat the soil in order to make the area usable.
No investor is going to spend that kind of money, she said.
Moses Hugo said he supports the plant, as it would allow for an opportunity to work in Chase instead of Alberta.
With two children, and his wife expecting another, Hugo expressed the troubles with trying to be there for his family while still supporting them.
Russel Rowe said there are many other ways Chase could attract business, residents and tourists without the pellet plant.
He suggested advertising as a retirement community, building a marina in Chase and more.
Rowe does not see the pellet plant as the only solution and, instead, said he thinks building a Tim Hortons would be a much better fit.
He noted that this would not only create jobs, but attract travellers looking to get their coffee fix between Salmon Arm and Kam-loops.
Council is still waiting for the environmental assessment before they can vote on the possible rezoning of the land on Aylmer Road.
“The assessment will detail what, if any, concerns there are,” Anderson explained.
“The way it looks, it might come to the next council meeting,” he said.
If the assessment does make it to the Nov. 26 council meeting, it will be received for information and the process will continue on to the next step.