Documents comparing emissions from Ebco Metal Finishing Ltd.’s South Surrey galvanizing plant to other Metro Vancouver-region facilities authorized to discharge contaminants were a source of angst Tuesday for area residents fighting to have the company’s air-quality permit cancelled.
Appellants at the Environmental Appeal Board hearing, representing groups including the Little Campbell Watershed Society, argued the figures – which rank Ebco’s emission levels last year as significantly lower than other facilities – aren’t relevant to the conversation.
The other facilities listed, including Tree Island Steel and Lafarge, unlike Ebco, aren’t beside an organic farm, near an elementary school or built on top of an aquifer “where 10,000 people draw their water from,” submitted LCWS president Phillip Milligan and Bill Ridge, a director of Semiahmoo Fish and Game Club.
“We’re dealing with a unique area, (how other authorized facilities rank) is not our concern,” Milligan said. “We’re dealing with Ebco – that’s right here in Surrey.
“That’s why we don’t see any relevance to these numbers.”
The hearing began last April with the appellants presenting their case for cancelling Ebco’s permit, which was issued for the 18699 25 Ave. plant nearly two years ago. Monday was the first day of two weeks scheduled to hear the case of Metro Vancouver’s district director, as well as submissions by Ebco.
In weighing in on the request made by Metro Vancouver lawyer Susan Rutherford Tuesday, Ebco counsel Nicholas Hughes said it would be “a disservice” if the panel was not able to consider the ranking data. He said it shows a “massive” difference between the other facilities and Ebco – including that, where particulate emissions are concerned, Ebco’s annual 0.45 tonnes puts it 96th in a list of 106 given the same authority. The tenth-largest is authorized to emit 191.61 tonnes of particulates.
The data – gleaned from Metro Vancouver’s reporting requirements by Dr. Katherine Preston, Metro’s first witness and lead senior engineer of the region’s environmental regulation enforcement division – also shows that Tree Island Steel is allowed to emit 1,200 tonnes of zinc per year, while Ebco’s annual limit is 0.75 tonnes.
“These paint a very stark picture, I think it’s a very useful context,” Hughes said.
Hughes said if the documents were not admitted, he will “ask the questions” of Preston to bring the information out when the opportunity arises.
Following a short break to consider the arguments, hearing chair Darrell Le Houillier announced that the documents would be admitted, however, “something to be determined still is how much weight we’re going to give it.”
“For the appellants, we understand your concerns,” he said. “At the end of the day, it looks like there might be some relevance to what we’re here to discuss.”
In giving evidence based on the data, Preston described Ebco as “a relatively small emitter” when it came to non-combustion particulate matter. Also, regarding zinc emissions, the allowed amount “is a good order of magnitude less than Tree Island,” she said.
She also noted that many of the other facilities on the list were also located, like Ebco, near areas categorized as “sensitive receptors,” including farmland, adjacent to the Fraser River and in “densely populated” areas.
Other highlights of Tuesday included a ruling by the panel to not admit a Metro Vancouver “tracking table” of comments regarding a “soil, water, plant-tissue sampling plan.”
While Rutherford submitted the document “shows the diligence” with which Metro Vancouver reviewed the plan – which was amended following last year’s hearing sessions – Le Houillier said the panel had concerns around the fairness of introducing evidence that contradicts testimony that was given by one of the appellants’ witnesses, when there is no opportunity to put the evidence to that witness.
As well, “why are we just hearing about this today?” Le Houillier asked, after learning the information was collected, at least in part, while last year’s hearing was underway.
Rutherford said the report that was discussed during the appellants’ case last year had been released “prior to (Metro’s) normal process… it was a draft.”
Metro Vancouver district director Ray Robb added that typically, Metro will provide comment on a document before releasing it, and as a result of that process being incomplete at the time the document was discussed last year, “we got criticized for not doing our job.”
“We provided something that wasn’t finished through our process, and then we were criticized for our process,” he said.
Hughes also supported having the document admitted.
“Surely the panel wants to know what we’re doing, why we’re doing it and what the results are,” he said of changes that were made to the sampling program.
The panel ruled that questions could be put to Preston on Metro’s process, however, “we’re not going to allow the document.”
“The document should have been disclosed, it was not disclosed,” Le Houillier said.
Cross-examination of Preston by the appellants also got underway Tuesday.
Responding to questions from Terry McNeice, Preston confirmed she has only visited the Ebco South Surrey site once, and that was last week.
Asked about how Ebco monitors and records emissions from flux, pickling and other tanks at the facility, Preston said she could only comment on what the air-quality permit requires, which includes that a log be kept of how much sulphuric acid is added to the pickling tanks.
Preston also confirmed that the authorized emissions are released through roof vents.
Cross-examination of Preston was to continue today (Wednesday).
The second week of the hearing is set to take place in April.