Beginning of the end

Posted Apr 6th, 2010 in Eating Niagara

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By Avia Eek, Holland Marsh farmer

Well, it has begun—sort of!

It's March 31, 2010, 10:30 a.m. and I am sitting in the King Township Council Chambers. The Ontario Municipal Board hearing concerning the site plan for the York Energy Centre is about to get underway.  The York Energy Centre is a 393-megawatt (but licensed for 435 megawatts) natural gas-fired peaker power plant proposed by Pristine Power, Inc., for the Holland Marsh, a.k.a. the Salad Bowl of Ontario, the Greenbelt, protected countryside, flood plain, specialty crop area — a place with legislation that “protects” this sensitive, high-value, food production area.

Time for Grub Blogs - Ontario GreenBelt
Taking stock in a Holland Marsh field (photos from Holland Marsh Growers' Association, Jamie Reaume)

We all stand when the hearing chair enters the room. The lawyer for the proponent and the Township are present. So are some members of the farming community, of which one is a participant. Holland Marsh Growers’ Association Executive Director Jamie Reaume, Concerned Citizens of King Township (CCKT) and Katherine Parsons, executive director for the Global Environmental Action Group, are also participants. There are others who have come to show their support opposing the location of this facility. 

Some guidelines are laid down by the hearing chair for the media present. After this, it’s down to business. The expert evidence will be heard first, and then the participants' statements will be heard. The dates for the 10-day hearing are discussed. We are adjourned until Tuesday, April 6/10.

A videographer from Rogers Cable is interviewing several people, one being the proponent’s lawyer.  I hear him say that this peaker plant facility is necessary and words to the effect that it has to go in.  Really? And the only available place to build this facility is in the Salad Bowl of Ontario? Less than a kilometre from where our valuable crops are grown and the waterway we irrigate from!?

Time for Grub Blogs - potatoes in holland marsh
Potatoes being irrigated in the Holland Marsh

Our population is growing and is only going to continue to grow. Taking prime agricultural land out of production and potentially reducing the crop yields on remaining land thanks to the impact that the plant's emissions may have on our waterways and organic-based soil seems to me a step backward — not forward thinking at all!

I’ve said this before: This power plant is not even going to benefit our area. We won't have access to the electricity. The energy will be for Bradford and northeastern York Region, not the Holland Marsh!

I was also interviewed by Rogers and asked what I would like to see come out of this OMB hearing. I said the the land for the plant is located in the Greenbelt, a swath of land that is supposed to be protected for food production and greenspace under the Greenbelt Act and Oak Ridges Moraine Conservation Plan.  However, the government can step in and impose infrastructure running at 35 per cent efficiency — that is clearly a “conflict use."

I’m also baffled that the Ministry of the Environment has not jumped on at least two points in studies on the issue that struck me as a layperson.

1) “All necessary studies have been completed with no negative impact to this area…” when it comes to the impact from the facility's emissions on soil. Yes, this true with mineral soil. But studies do not exist to show the impact of those emissions on the organic-based muck/peat soil (Specialty Crop Area soils) present in the Holland Marsh. There are many types of soil out there—not just mineral.

2) “The emissions from the YEC fall within acceptable parameters." Sure they do, if you're farming the land at the Pearson International Airport, which is the airshed that was tested for acceptable emissions levels. The airshed that should have been tested was right here and not near the highway, either. Why wasn’t the air where the plant will be built tested? My guess: probably because the emissions test results would not fall within acceptable parameters!

I find it ironic that at a time when government is pushing farmers to invest more of their own money in food safety and traceability, continued reduction of fertilizer and pesticide use, ongoing tri-annual  certification in this regard, permits to take water to irrigate crops, strict human rights rules and regulations  — as employers we are not to put our employees in harm's way but by imposing this power plant here, our health is being put at risk — this same government is calling farmers NIMBYs and pushing this peaker power plant down our throats.  It's even going so far as to say that the environmental assessment applied to this facility is sufficient for a 393-megawatt natural gas-fired peaker plant. The environmental assessment used is for the equivalent of a two-megawatt windmill.

Time for Grub Blogs - Carrots

So, back to what I would like to see come out of this OMB hearing? I would like to see this entire project put on a shelf. We have all this new legislation, plans and acts, but the science, assessments and logic is 40 years old. They must be revised.  

Municipalities should be allowed to conduct studies to see exactly how this type of industry will impact the communities they know. 

But most of all, the farmers of the Holland Marsh must be allowed to continue to do what they do best — grow safe, healthy, nutritious food for you and me without the additional challenges that a peaker power plant will undoubtedly present to them!

Avia Eek farms in the Holland Marsh and a director for the Holland Marsh Growers' Association.


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