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Controversial pellet plant

Monday night may be the last opportunity for the public to give their input on a controversial new pellet plant that has been proposed for Lavington. 

Pinnacle Renewable Energy is asking the District of Coldstream to rezone part of an industrial area that is currently used to store wood chips. Monday's public hearing is for input on whether or not the rezoning should be granted.

The plant would require 70,000 hours of construction work and provide 20 full time jobs once complete. Further, it would add approximately 15 trucking jobs in the Lavington area.

However, it's controversial because the plant would increase emissions of airborne particulate matter in a region that some say is already too near the acceptable threshold established in provincial air quality guidelines. The site is also adjacent to the Lavington Elementary School. 

According to the BC Lung Association, these microscopic particles affect respiratory and cardiovascular health. There is already a limit set by the provincial government of how much particulate matter in the atmosphere is safe. That limit is 8 micrograms of PM2.5 per cubic metre -- Vernon air quality is currently rated at about 7.75 micrograms per cubic metre. 

Pinnacle Energy estimates the proposed plant would contribute .35 micrograms of PM2.5 per year, pushing emissions above the acceptable level to about 8.1 micrograms per cubic metre.

The site would also produce PM10 emissions, but apparently those are well within provincial guidelines.

Before the plant is constructed, it's difficult to tell for sure whether these estimates are accurate, says Coldstream councillor Maria Besso.

"The problem is we don't know if the backgrounds are correct because they were measured in Vernon," she said. The testing site in Vernon and the proposed pellet plant site are nearly 15 kilometres apart.

A petition with more than 300 names has also been brought to Coldstream council, asking for the proposal to be rejected. 

Jason and Stephanie Hoffman organized the petition, with the former saying their main concern is the amount of possible emissions.

"Basically the petition states we don't want it near our residential neighbourhood and specifically near the elementary school," he said.

"We shouldn't be pushing those [PM2.5] limits. We should be aiming to be below them for health and safety's sake. Our concern is the school and the people that go there."  

The Hoffmans are also one of closest houses to the proposed site.

If council allows the rezoning, Pinnacle will still require a permit for emissions from the Ministry of Environment. Besso said Coldstream council has asked the Ministry to include the following conditions:

  1. That ambient air quality at the site be tested before construction to establish baseline air quality for that specific area.
  2. That, if a permit for emissions is granted, that Pinnacle be required to constantly monitor the emissions to ensure they do not go above acceptable levels.

The Hoffmans fear that might not be enough to ensure the safety of locals.

According to an article in the Vancouver Sun, Pinnacle Renewable Energy has been fined several times in recent history for failing WorkSafe BC inspections at some of their other pellet plants around the province.

"Seven of 10 pellet manufacturers were cited in WorkSafeBC inspections between April and June for accumulations of wood dust at risk of fire or explosion, inadequate dust-control programs and the unsafe use of high-pressure air to clean up dust, according to inspection reports obtained by The Vancouver Sun through a freedom of information request," the article reads.

Pinnacle could not be reached for comment on this story.

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