Biochar facility raises questions
By Angelica Ingram
Published Nov. 15, 2016
A new facility planned for a property on Kennaway Road has some neighbours unsure about its potential impact, while others are seeking more information before it is built.
A public meeting on Nov. 7 in Dysart council chambers had standing room only as approximately 50 people came out to hear the details of a biochar manufacturing plant being proposed by the Haliburton Forest and Wild Life Reserve.
If approved, the building will be located at 1088 Kennaway Road, which used to be home to a sawmill and wood pellet business.
Haliburton Forest is applying to the municipality to amend the zoning for the property, which is almost 20 acres.
The application is seeking to change the zoning from extractive industrial zone and rural type 1 zone to the general industrial zone and environmental protection zone.
The plan for the property, which is already owned by Haliburton Forest, is to construct a wood processing operation to produce biochar, a high quality charcoal.
To produce the biochar, Haliburton Forest will use raw, untreated sawdust from their own sawmill and will convert it into charcoal through the process of pyrolysis, burning at a high temperature without oxygen.
General manager of the Forest, Malcolm Cockwell referred to the process as compelling technology. He said while the original plan was to produce the biochar near the sawmill, that changed.
The plan is to have the facility up and running by the fall of 2017.
Project manager for the biochar proposal Nina Shock explained the process to those in attendance and said she was here to address concerns.
One of the first issues raised was the question of what type of emissions would be released at the facility from the heat source.
Shock likened the facility to a larger version of a wood stove typically used in a residential house and said they had to follow rigorous guidelines set out by the Ministry of Environment and Climate Change (MOECC).
Neighbouring property owner Gary Browning brought up drainage issues on the property and said it was covered in garbage from the previous owner.
Shock said Forest staff have been working diligently to clean up the property since it was purchased.
Browning asked if he was going to smell any odours from the facility and why it wasn’t being built at the Haliburton Forest location on Kennisis Lake Road.
Cockwell said the original plan was to do it at the Forest, as that would have been cheaper than trucking the material to the property on Kennaway Road, however the property at the Forest has no prior industrial use.
To get the appropriate approvals would have “taken very long and been very expensive,” he said.
“This is an old industrial site at a reasonable price,” said Cockwell.
Shock said the facility will only ever use sawdust for the biochar process and the product is certified by the Canadian Food Inspection Agency.
Members of the Drag and Spruce Lakes Property Owners Association raised some of their concerns about the facility.
Prior to the public meeting a notice had been posted on the association’s website outlining the zoning application and urging members to attend the meeting.
Association president Karl Gonnsen asked if there was a plant similar to the proposal that members could go and look at. “The short answer is no,” said Shock, saying the technology was new and innovative.
Gonnsen asked if the zoning change could specifically include that only sawdust would be used at the facility, to which Shock said yes.
Gonnsen also inquired about traffic studies, noise levels and fire suppression.
“Since it’s a pioneering process we don’t really know what’s going to happen, do we?” said Gonnsen. “We don’t know enough about it. Today’s talk is the most we’ve heard about it.”
Other individuals expressed the same opinion, saying more information was needed.
Shock said the process is thoroughly tested and regulated by the MOECC. She said the process is no different than what is done with a wood stove.
“We certainly believe in it and believe we’re doing a good thing,” she said.
Ken Syrett asked if the purpose of the meeting was really about seeking permission for the project and pointed to the Forest’s past record of following the rules.
“It’s not you, Malcolm, it’s your boss. He just does things without permission and asks for forgiveness,” said Syrett.
Cockwell acknowledged prior issues involving the Forest but assured the crowd that things were different at the Forest now. “We’re residents of this area too, not investors from Timbuktu,” he said. “We actually care.”
Dysart et al director of planning Patricia Martin said the applicants could go ahead and build the facility without the zoning change, as the current zoning allowed for this type of facility.
“There always has been an industrial component to this property,” said Martin, adding it will still have to get approvals from the MOECC.
Martin said the application included changing the zoning of the entire property, to allow for future expansion.
Shock said the facility would allow for two full-time jobs.
Gonnsen reiterated that more information was needed so that there wasn’t speculation among neighbouring residents.
“You are the people we can talk to,” he said. “We don’t even have a councillor at the moment.”
The Dysart councillor whose ward encompasses the property, Derek Knowles, resigned on Oct. 24 because he is moving out of the area.
Kelly Short asked about the number of trucks going in and out of the property, which Shock said would be about two a month.
Short praised the applicants for the information they shared, which he said gave him a more clear understanding of the project.
“I came into this negatively, but have heard positive things,” he said.
Della Redwood brought up the issue of property values for the area and what the future held for the facility.
Cockwell said the hope was to grow in size down the road.
“Would the operation then be 24/7?” she asked, to which they said no.
According to Martin, the Forest has submitted a site evaluation report of the site that defines the extent of the wetland boundary and recommends a 30 metre building setback.
The planning committee deferred the zoning application until further consultation with the public was had. The file will return at the Dec. 5 public meeting.
An open house has been planned for Wednesday, Nov. 23 from 4 to 6 p.m. at the Haliburton Legion.