Former City of Powell River director of engineering and development services Gino Francescutti does not want to see a resource-recovery centre built at the old incinerator site near Willingdon Beach.
Francescutti said he is opposed to the location for various reasons.
“First and foremost, it was originally given to the city as a park,” said Francescutti. “I understand from the information that I’ve seen in the local media that they are going to be asking the government as to whether this proposed use is in keeping with the free land grant. That gives me the message that maybe somebody is already questioning: is this something that should happen on parkland?”
Francescutti said he also wants to state that in the city zoning bylaw, the permitted use is labelled as civic use.
“I want to make everyone know that very clearly, civic use was put in the zoning bylaw after the property had already been used for a civic use, namely the operation of the incinerator,” said Francescutti. “Changing it over to this resource-recovery centre is taking it to the next step of permitted use within parkland.
“First of all, I’m totally opposed to this use of parkland,” he added. “The second reason is I honestly believe the land, or the idea of using this site for the resource-recovery centre, is very short-term planning. It’s unknown what some of the other future uses might be for that land.”
Francescutti said when he was working for the city, he was actively engaged in trying to get the highway routed through the incinerator site property rather than running adjacent to Willingdon Beach and then through the S curve to the section of road commonly known as the cut. He remains an advocate of the relocation of the highway, improvement of the intersection of Alberni Street and Marine Avenue, and separation of the traffic between parks and vehicles in a much safer manner.
He agrees that the old incinerator site lands need to be cleaned up, which is part of the resource-recovery centre project.
“The city has been put on notice on more than one occasion by the ministry of environment that they need to clean up that site,” said Francescutti. “To date, nothing has been done and all this has caused is more increased costs as a result of vegetation growing over the site, making it therefore more difficult to clean up,” said Francescutti.
He added that the city has a site plan on record that shows the location of all of the waste that has been buried or stockpiled in that area.
“I 100 per cent support recycling and the reuse of waste materials that may be of value to others, but I do not believe it needs to be done on this site,” said Francescutti. “There are city properties that I believe are suited and much more closely related to the neighbouring land uses, unlike the related parkland.”
City councillor CaroleAnn Leishman, who is a city appointee to qathet Regional District board of directors, said the resource-recovery centre is absolutely the best use for the old incinerator land, which includes parkland and public space, as well as a plan for an active transportation corridor and connectivity to the trails and Townsite, not to mention an amazing strategy for reducing waste and creating multiple diversion opportunities.
“The city has engaged with the ministry of transportation and infrastructure (MOTI) on repeated occasions, as recently as last year, asking if there was an appetite for MOTI to realign Highway 101 through that property and the response has always been that it would be far too expensive and the province is not interested in exploring that,” said Leishman. “The Ministry of Environment and Climate Change Strategy (MOECCS) has approved our regional solid waste management plan, which includes the resource-recovery centre, and they are keen to see the contaminated site closure begin imminently. Considering the regional district was successful in receiving $6 million of federal grant funding to complete the closure of the old incinerator site that includes the resource-recovery centre buildout, I hardly think MOECCS is going to be very happy if we were to pull the plug on the centre and start over from scratch.”
Leishman said she also doesn’t think city residents would be happy if the grant funding was cancelled and the region had to come up with millions of dollars to start over with a completely new plan to deal with the contaminated site that had no grant funding attached to it.
“Taxpayers would be on the hook for the old incinerator site closure, which was estimated it could be up to $12 million if we don't go ahead with the plan we have now that includes the resource-recovery centre,” said Leishman. “The regional district and the city would have to go back to the drawing board and begin the process of creating yet another solid waste management plan if we were to diverge from the current strategy, not to mention we would have to apply for new grant funding because we could not afford the closure costs and we would still be stuck with our current waste handling methods, which are inadequate going forward.”
Leishman said it is way too late in the game to question the plans.
“For anyone who has somehow missed all the public engagement on the resource-recovery centre to date, I recommend they read through the solid waste management plan summary on the regional District website under Solid Waste & Recycling that explains the plan very clearly, or at the very least watch the video that walks you through the site and goes over the plan.
Leishman said all residents she has talked to over the last four years about the resource-recovery centre plans and the $6 million grant funding are totally supportive and excited to see this project get underway, so she has no hesitation it is heading in the right direction.
“The work on this has been very thorough,” said Leishman.
In terms of rerouting the highway, Francescutti said back in 2003, he and the city planner of the day were invited to submit a proposal for any highway project that could benefit the community. He said at that time there was funding available from the provincial government. That funding was available to all of the communities within the Lower Mainland, of which Powell River was considered a part.
“The planner and myself made a proposal to the ministry of highways,” said Francescutti. “That proposal was reviewed by them. We were called to their office to review it further. We were advised that Powell River’s submission was at the top of the list for funding.
“It was put on the list at the top because of the fact that it was a highway that led to our heritage community in the Townsite, that it was the highway that went to Lund, the fact it was the highway that went to the industrial site, namely the pulp mill, and that the highway went through parkland by Willingdon Beach, which was seen as hazardous for the users of the park.”
Francescutti said rerouting was also favoured because of the known problems with the intersection of Marine Avenue and Alberni Street.
“On that note, they advised us that if we brought this back to city council and got their support on the project, the ministry would provide funds for the rerouting of the highway up and around the east side of Willingdon Beach, the museum, the mini golf and the landfill area,” said Francescutti. “That proposal was presented to council by the city planner of the day and it is my understanding that it did not proceed further because someone had placed some notices in trails leading from Marine Avenue to the recreation centre advising that this is the location of a rerouted highway as per the wishes of mayor [Stewart] Alsgard and Mr. Francescutti. As such it did not proceed further.”
Francescutti said the highway rerouting project is one that he wants to see proceed if interest can be regenerated.
He said he is hoping other residents who think the way he does express their concerns when the zoning amendment bylaw for the resource-recovery centre goes through the public hearing process.
He said the Marine Avenue S curve near Willingdon Beach is not safe and bringing traffic right past where people are crossing the road at Willingdon Beach also creates a hazard.
The Alberni-Marine intersection is also not safe, which has been well known for many years, he added. Francescutti said that during his years with the city he helped secure property around the Alberni-Marine intersection, namely the properties at the southeast corner of the intersection.
“They are city properties now and they were acquired for the purpose of having available land to make improvements for that intersection,” said Francescutti.
He added the fact that the incinerator site was used for waste disposal does not make the resource-recovery centre right.
“What was wrong then should not continue to be made wrong today,” said Francescutti. “Let’s get back on track and do sound planning, short and long term.”