The Lafarge plant in Brookfield. Photo: Media Co-op

A handful of Colchester County residents will get their day in court next year to try and halt a one-year pilot project that would burn tires for fuel at the Lafarge Canada cement plant in Brookfield, 12 kilometres south of Truro, near Shortts Lake.

Yesterday, in a process to set court dates, Lafarge lawyer John Keith said the cement company plans to use its kiln to begin test-burning in May 2018.

March 6-7, 2018 is the tentative hearing date for a judicial review of Environment Minister Iain Rankin’s decision to allow tire-burning limited to 20 tonnes a day, or 15 per cent of the company’s fuel supply, subject to conditions that include the monitoring of air quality, noise, and the establishment of a community liaison and complaints process. Supreme Court Justice Josh Arnold will hear the appeal filed by Allan and Lydia Sorflaten, Jim Harpell, Kendall McCulloch, and Fred Blois.

Through their lawyer Bill Mahody, the citizens are asking the court to declare the Minister’s decision “unreasonable” on the grounds there are too many environmental unknowns, including how the tire-burning process might affect groundwater.

In Supreme Court yesterday, Judge Patrick Duncan ordered the Dept. of Environment to disclose by Sept. 29 all reports and recommendations made to the Minister related to the Lafarge project.

When he announced his decision on July 6, Environment Minister Rankin said it was “based on science and evidence” that included testing by an engineering team at Dalhousie University that expects replacing coal with tires will reduce carbon emissions from the cement plant by 30 per cent.  (Lafarge Canada is one of a small number of companies including NS Power who will be impacted by whatever cap-and-trade system the Province introduces to lower greenhouse gas emissions linked to climate change.)  Rankin said changing the fuel mix should also lower smog emissions by 20-30 per cent.

Depending on what is contained in the yet to-be-disclosed documents from the Dept. of Environment, the lawyer for the citizen’s group said he’s likely to file a motion asking the Court to introduce additional evidence from expert witnesses.

Sean Foreman represents the NS Environment Dept. Foreman says he will fight Mahody’s motion (if it comes forward) because “the purpose of a judicial review is to make sure the proper process was followed, not to introduce new material and ask the judge to make a different decision.”

A different decision is exactly what Shortts Lake resident Lydia Sorflaten hopes to achieve. She lives 500 meters from the plant. In 2007, for a second time, she fought against Lafarge’s tire-burning proposal because she believed it would increase pollution and adversely affect human health. Ten years ago, some Liberal MLAs also fought against the project which was eventually rejected by the Conservative government at the time. Sorflaten’s disappointment  at the  latest turn of events prompted  the court challenge now underway.

“The government looks at the reduction in greenhouse gases but it doesn’t look at  increased amounts of toxic chemicals released from burning tires, such as chlorine, which transforms into dioxins and furans which are carcinogenic,” said Lydia Sorflaten. “Those get into the food chain. Other plants that burn tires also have state-of-the art pollution controls but the electrostatic precipitator on this plant is close to 40 years old”.

In addition to stirring up environmentalists, the Liberal decision to pay Lafarge to incinerate tires for which consumers pay a $4.50 recycling fee has been characterized by NDP leader Gary Burrill as “a fuel subsidy to a large multinational.” It’s hard to argue with that — although the only tire recycling company in Nova Scotia, C &D Recycling, receives nearly twice as much per tire from the government as Lafarge will.

C&D Recycling turns rubber into road construction material and employs 11 people. Owner Dan Chassie told The Truro Daily News that if 30 per cent  of the provincial supply is diverted to the cement plant “it will be the beginning of the end for tire recycling here.”

Jennifer Henderson is a freelance journalist and retired CBC News reporter.

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