By Jeff Labine
The Chronicle-Journal

The Municipality of Neebing may have a solution to both its garbage problem and, to some extent, its finances.

Orion Eco Solutions, of Concord, Ont., is proposing to build a waste processing plant at one of Neebing’s two landfill sites. It would convert non-hazardous waste material into energy to produce bio-diesel fuel.

The fixed bed gasification plant or gasifier would take municipal household waste and burn it in a closed system for conversion to heat. A second facility, called a bi-fuel cracking plant, would use the heat to dry waste material from the first process, and convert it and biomass into light synthetic diesel oil.

The total area for the proposed site is 8.1 hectares and the proposal is being reviewed by the Ontario Ministry of the Environment and Climate Change.

This project comes after the province in June passed a new law to try and divert more waste from landfills. Neebing’s Scoble Township landfill is full and the municipality, south of Thunder Bay, must either close it or apply to expand it.

The Sandhill landfill in Crooks Township, site of the proposed gasification facility, still has room. Neebing sees the proposal as an economic development opportunity that will divert waste from landfills and lessen their output of methane, which contributes substantially to climate change.

Neebing Mayor Ziggy Polkowski described the project as an excellent opportunity for the municipality. He said he’s relying on the ministry to do its due diligence to ensure the proposal meets all its standards.

Neebing officials have met with MPP Bill Mauro and his local colleague Michael Gravelle, both Ontario cabinet ministers, and Environment Minister Glen Murray about the project.

“For somebody to come to a municipality, investing $10 million in our municipality in this day and age, to me, is huge,” Polkowski said.

“Our people are (finding it) very hard to pay taxes lately. I hear complaints from all different sides of the municipality that people are having a hard time with taxation and assessment. We heard the builder (Orion) say he will employ immediately 13 people, approximately, to start with. Plus there are spinoff jobs. When I became a mayor and garbage became an issue, I checked all over the world to see what they did with the garbage. When I came across projects like this, gasifiers were used.”

He mentioned that 15 per cent of Neebing residents didn’t pay their taxes on time, which could result in some properties going up for sale. With that in mind, Polkowski said he sees a new plant as a real opportunity to help out the tax base.

Polkowski said the company is putting up all the money. He said the only contribution the municipality is providing is the land.

“I had a discussion with a taxpayer today on this thing,” Polkowski said.

“If the company was asking the municipality to invest a sum of money . . . I would be jittery. The proponent is coming with his own investors. His own money. I think this guy knows exactly what he’s doing. By the way, he’s been running a gasifier in Toronto for the last 15 years. Sometimes these things are too good to be true, but given our economics, I’m willing to bet on the Ministry of Environment. They are going to do their job.”

He added that if something goes wrong, Neebing will take ownership of the building but the equipment would go with the company.

The project has attracted some controversy from residents, which is why the municipality is holding a special meeting on Thursday starting at 7 p.m. at Blake Hall to answer anyone’s questions. The developer will be present.

Orion also has set up a dedicated email line to accept questions about the plants at tbay@orionecosolutions.com.

Polkowski said there are some people in the municipality who are spreading fear about the project but he’s willing to take questions and provide answers to those who legitimately want to learn more about the proposed facility.

Fliers were distributed at the Sandhill landfill over the weekend advising residents to submit comments on the proposal on the province’s Environmental Bill of Rights website ebr.gov.on.ca, where Orion’s applications are registered at 012-8864 and 012-8857. The public has until Dec. 5 to provide a comment.

Other Lakehead Rural Municipal Committee members were invited to participate in the project but not everyone was onboard. Both O’Connor and Oliver Paipoonge decided in 2015 to bow out.

Oliver Paipoonge Mayor Lucy Kloosterhuis told The Chronicle-Journal on Monday that it was simply because it would be an added cost to taxpayers who have recently spent money on that municipality’s two landfills.

“We would have had to have our landfill and debris trucked to Neebing, which would have been a cost to our taxpayers,” she said.

“We have two landfill sites that have lives between 40 to 50 years. Why would we spend money to have it trucked elsewhere? If we didn’t have a landfill site, or had a landfill site near expiration, that would have been something we would have looked at. We were told that if we did (participate in) project Orion, the Ministry of Environment would close our landfill sites.”