Smithers Town Council brought new air quality concerns to light at their regular meeting on April 9.
In his mayor’s report, Taylor Bachrach told council he met with members of the group Clean Air Now on April 3 regarding air quality concerns related to operation of the Pinnacle wood pellet plant.
Bachrach reported the group said they “were seeing a bit more blue haze coming out of the stacks.”
He said he has communicated with Pinnacle and that the B.C. Ministry of Environment is also aware of the concerns.
Coun. Frank Wray said he would be remiss if he did not comment on a related Facebook post made by Clean Air Now’s Bulkley Valley contingent.
“One was a picture on a clear day and there was a haze of smoke overhead, but it was clearly not from the plant, although it was actually given as visual evidence that it was from the plant,” Wray said, adding he assumed the haze was rather caused by smoke from residential wood stoves.
“I don’t like commenting on Facebook, but I almost commented on that one because I felt it was an egregious use of the medium.”
The March 21 Facebook post described by Wray correlates with a post on the Clean Air Now Bulkley Valley group website, wherein the poster, Jim Senka, alleges that aspen being processed by Pinnacle “is likely contributing to the smoke emissions being witnessed.”
Senka also submitted a letter to Interior News on Mar. 29, in which he wrote that the plant “has been smoking badly.”
“Could this be the result of a different or blended feedstock of green aspen that was hauled to the plant or short-cutting of the drying process?” Senka questioned in his letter.
Leroy Reitsma, president and chief operating officer of the plant, told Interior News the company is working with Clean Air Now group members to address their concerns.
“When I was made aware of [the concerns] I contacted the mayor and said, ‘You know what, they’re wanting to be heard and they’re wanting to have our attention, we’re wanting to give them that,’ Reitsma said. “We’re looking to engage, not avoid people.”
According to Reitsma, a series of tests at the facility have shown the equipment is operating well and the B.C. Ministry of Environment and Climate Change Strategy (ENV) has attended the plant “a number of times” to ensure compliance with environmental standards.
He said they’re waiting for the concerned community members to provide details on what days they noticed emissions.
“To have more detailed information about the times at which those situations have occurred will help us in better understanding how to adjust the function of the equipment to try and address it,” he said, adding the function of the dryer would be included in an assessment.
Now based in Prince George, Reitsma said he was raised in Smithers and still has family in town.
“Put it this way, I have a vested interest in ensuring clean air because I spend a lot of time [in Smithers] and I have lots of family members living there as well.”
Aside from engaging with Pinnacle, the ministry and community members on air quality concerns, Bachrach noted council recently received a letter from ENV requesting to lease land for the air quality and meteorological monitoring station at Muheim Elementary School.
In December 2018, ENV obtained temporary approval from School District 54 and the Town to situate a station on a portion of the school field. The ministry is now seeking permission to make the station permanent.
SD54 granted ENV permission to site a 15 x 30 ft. station compound, but since the location is on the Town 2nd Avenue right of way, a lease agreement with the Town is required.
“I’d like to move ahead with this and I recommend that we do it,” said Coun. Gladys Atrill, who emphasized the importance of clean air during the meeting.
Wray raised concerns, such as insurance and liability, but Dianna Plouffe, director of corporate services, confirmed she read the letter from ENV and Town staff are “pretty sure [they] can come to an agreement that would work for everybody.”
Council carried a motion directing staff to draw up a lease agreement for ENV, with Wray opposed.