They don't like what's coming down the pipe. And they're vowing to stop it.
Pickering residents say a proposed odour-control facility to be built near their homes for treating fumes from York Region's sewage will foul the air, lower property values and destroy valuable farmland.
The anticipated smell is bad enough, says Stop the Stink, a community group fighting the proposal – which is awaiting the province's approval – but the perceived silence around the project has really put their noses out of joint.
Residents in the Altona Rd. and Finch Ave. E. area weren't told how close the facility would be to their homes, or informed about odour complaints and breakdowns at an older structure farther south, Devi Gopalan said yesterday when 25 opponents took the fight to Durham Region council.
Gopalan, who learned about the facility two days after she moved in last October, told councillors 2,000 people have signed a petition opposing the plan.
"Odour-control facilities smell, no matter how much they say they don't," she said in an interview.
Proponents from York and Durham Region deny that residents have been kept in the dark.
"There's a lot of misinformation floating around," says John Presta, Durham's director of environmental services. "It's not a sewage treatment plant and it doesn't create odours – it treats odours."
The community has been kept informed with meetings, flyers and newspaper ads dating back to June 2007, said Wayne Green, project manager for York. He says another meeting is planned for next month.
The facility is part of the expansion – needed to keep up with urban growth – of the York-Durham Sewage System, known as the Big Pipe. It would filter and release airflow from the sewer that carries raw sewage to a treatment plant in Pickering.
The proposed site, on 10 hectares of protected agricultural land, 300 metres south of the Cherrywood West subdivision, will have the least environmental impact and no effect on wildlife, said Green.
"The engineers have said the level of risk of odours is equivalent to a lottery ... no chance," he said, because it will use both biofilter technology and charcoal filters.
Such assurances haven't stopped residents from worrying.
Griselda Alfonso told councillors while she's "passionate" about raising her three children in Pickering, the family lives 350 metres from the planned facility. "We'll always be confronted with a 40-foot stack that will be venting treated sewage gases. The last thing I expected when we built our dream home was that we'd be subjected to sewage odours."
York's sewage belongs in York, 100 opponents said at a meeting last week.
"The technology is new and unproven," campaign organizer Pete Herman said. "No one's told us what's coming out of this 40-foot smokestack. Is it bad for us?"
Durham Region's Presta defends the facility's location by comparing it to an exhaust fan in a bathroom. "You wouldn't put the fan in another room to deal with odours in the washroom."
From an operational and technical standpoint, the best spot is at a drop in the pipe, he said.
But Bonnie Littley, a councillor for Pickering and Durham Region, is upset no alternatives were considered that would have avoided residential areas. And she disputes whether there was adequate public consultation.
"People didn't realize how this would affect them. Now they're freaking out, and fears get blown out of proportion."
Opponents expect to speak their minds again at the Feb. 25 meeting of Durham's works committee.
Construction is to start next year with completion expected in 2012.