'Wonky perspective': Residents question fairness of waste facility approval process
If fewer than 16,250 residents vote in opposition to the project, the city can proceed with undedicating 21 acres of parkland at Fraser Foreshore Park.
Oleg Mayorov / Shutterstock
Nearly two weeks after the City of Burnaby formally opened the alternative approval process (AAP) for a proposed green waste facility in Fraser Foreshore Park, the process has come under criticism for a perceived lack of engagement with the community.
The proposed GRO facility would require the undedication of about 21 acres of parkland in the well-loved riverfront park.
Under provincial legislation, the city is required to gain the approval of the electorate to move forward with the project on the specified Fraser Foreshore site by way of the AAP.
Residents who wish to oppose the project have until April 28 to sign and return an elector response form, which must be done on paper and returned by mail or in person. Electronic submissions are not permitted.
Those who wish to support the project do not need to take any action, and those who don’t participate will be counted as being in favour of the facility.
If fewer than 16,250 residents—or 10% of those eligible to vote in municipal elections in Burnaby—vote in opposition to the project, the city can proceed with the undedication.
The project has met with fierce opposition from some members of the community who are decrying the proposed undedication of parkland, and say the project would be better suited to land that is already zoned for industrial use.
Several residents who have written into the Beacon say that they believe the AAP hasn’t engaged the public properly, putting more pressure on those who oppose the project to organize campaigns within the community.
“When only 32,000 Burnaby citizens voted in the municipal election (with all the city's resources to get them out) it certainly doesn't appear fair to force volunteers to somehow get 16,000+ citizens to get, fill out, and deliver AAP forms,” Burnaby resident Paul Cipywnyk told the Beacon earlier this month.
Beacon reader Nick Batistic, meanwhile, said he was actually in support of the project itself—but that the AAP promotes a “wonky perspective” of the issue.
“There's an old saying that if you have a hammer, everything looks like a nail! Why Burnaby would want supporting voices to be silent is puzzling,” Batistic wrote.
“This means all feedback is going to be against the project, and those who support it will not have an opportunity to speak to the reasons.”
Ian Bushfield, co-host of the local politics-based podcast The Cambie Report, told the Beacon that while the AAP is generally a “sensible approach” for a local government to take in situations like this, he agrees it will skew public feedback of the project in one direction.
“This approach really relies on people submitting our opinion—but if people do support this project, it looks the same as if no one cares, or didn't manage to access the process or learn enough,” he said.
“So it really is about those people who care passionately and oppose it. Those people who care passionately and support it don't really get any opportunity to voice their concerns here.”
Meanwhile, others have taken issue with statements by city councillors who say that the public has been well-educated on the project.
A map showing the location of the proposed GRO facility in Fraser Foreshore Park. City of Burnaby
At a city council meeting earlier this month, Coun. Sav Dhaliwal said there had been plenty of outreach to the public in the form of two advertisements in print issues of the Burnaby Now newspaper—and that many residents of Burnaby are engaged in municipal affairs.
“[The] public is generally aware of these types of initiatives,” Dhaliwal told his fellow councillors in regards to the AAP.
“And the good thing about the whole thing is that not everyone who is supporting the project has to do anything about this. … People who are opposing are the ones who would have to make an attempt to [send back the forms] and I believe there’s adequate information available…” stated Dhaliwal.
Bushfield told the Beacon that while councillors often deal with members of the public who are highly engaged in municipal matters, it’s a stretch to say that most residents are aware of systems like AAPs.
“It's something like you and I probably have to read up extensively to figure out because we've never heard of it—whereas ones who are deeply following this are either paid or do it as a passion project,” he said.
“And so on that count, I think he's stretching the truth—but as an elected politician, he has connections within the community, and he has a view of those communities that are engaged, and those are just as valid as anyone else. But you know, the turnout [at the previous municipal election] does speak volumes.”
Less than one in 10 Burnaby residents cast their ballots in last October’s municipal election. In an interview then, Bushfield said people are less likely to vote in local elections if they’re generally pleased with what their city council has been doing.
In this case, Bushfield says he’s aware of resident campaigns to get people to participate in the AAP.
“I definitely saw in some of the Burnaby forums … people flagging the story and immediately being like, we need to print off these forms and stand outside Costco and hand them out. … There are definitely people who are very passionate about it,” he said.
“So can they do it, is the next question—because 10% of the electorate, 16,000 signatures is a lot. It's the same petition level as required in the provincial recall legislation. And I think we've only seen that once get close to the threshold of meeting the right amount of signatures to recall one MLA, and we've only had one referendum under that similar set of criteria.”
Several community groups have begun campaigns to encourage residents to participate in the AAP.
A coalition of several climate organizations within the city, including Force of Nature, Burnaby Climate Hub, and Protect the Planet among others has launched a petition against the facility.
There have also been several events planned in opposition to the project—including a small rally outside City Hall last night held by community group Friends of Burnaby.
On March 19, a rally will be held at Fraser Foreshore Park to protest the project.
The city says GRO would help Burnaby achieve its climate goals by converting organic waste into high-quality soil that could be used by residents, community gardeners, and local farms.
According to the city, the facility also has the potential to generate renewable natural gas to heat 5,000 homes per year and process up to 150,000 tonnes of organic waste from Burnaby and the Metro Vancouver region.
Currently, Burnaby sends its organic waste to private facilities in Delta and Pemberton—and Mayor Mike Hurley told the Beacon in an interview the construction of a facility here would take “many diesel trucks off the road” because they would not be driving to other parts of the province to deliver waste anymore.
If the facility goes ahead, it will take up about 12% of undeveloped parkland at Fraser Foreshore Park. An environmental assessment report commissioned by the city says the facility would result in the loss of habitat function for many wildlife species that live in the park—including “loss of habitat for amphibians and lost foraging and breeding habitat for migratory birds”.
Photographer Chris Parlow loves the wildlife at Fraser Foreshore Park. But the possibility of the GRO facility's impacts have him concerned. (Chris Parlow/ Submitted)
However, the city has committed to restoring and creating new habitats and waterways to mitigate the impacts of the facility.