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Shortts Lake residents brace for court fight

Lydia Sorflaten stands on her property next to Shortts Lake, some 500 metres from the Lafarge Brookfield cement plant.
Lydia Sorflaten stands on her property next to Shortts Lake, some 500 metres from the Lafarge Brookfield cement plant.

BROOKFIELD, N.S – Lydia and Allan Sorflaten have enjoyed the serenity of Shortts Lake for the past 35 years.

In that time, children have grown and moved away, neighbours and governments have come and gone and the number of dwellings surrounding the five-kilometre-long Colchester County lake has increased to 350, about 100 of them housing year-round residents.

The one neighbourhood constant has been the Lafarge cement plant at Pleasant Valley, near Brookfield, that has been churning out cement and the requisite kiln dust emissions to produce it for more than a half century. The Sorflaten’s home on Shortts Lake West Road is about 500 metres from the plant.

The Sorflatens, 72 and 74, respectively, have grudgingly accepted the emissions as a necessary complication in the picture-perfect territory they call home but now, for a third time in 23 years, they have been forced to gird themselves and rally their neighbours for a fight against the cement company’s plan to burn tires in the kiln.

“We are such little people compared to big business, to corporations and government,” a frustrated Lydia Sorflaten said Tuesday.

Environment Minister Iain Rankin gave the company an environmental assessment approval in early July for a one-year pilot project to burn tires at the plant. Some six weeks later, Sorflaten and her group of tire-burning dissenters filed notice with the Supreme Court of Nova Scotia for a judicial review of Rankin’s decision. Filed by Halifax lawyer William Mahody, the notice claims the minister’s decision failed to properly consult the public, to protect human health and to prevent pollution. The review will be heard in March.

Sorflaten said the company stated that everything disappears in a kiln that’s cooking at 1,400 degrees Celsius, but she doesn’t buy it.

“Matter is neither created or destroyed,” Sorflaten said. “There is no magic in this.”

Robert Cumming, the environmental director for Lafarge Canada, said Tuesday that the company is in the process of completing its response to the conditions the minister set out in the pilot approval. When that, and the remainder of the work to get the plant ready to burn tires is complete, the company will apply for a one-year pilot approval from the department. He doesn’t expect to be burning tires at the plant before next summer.

The company’s request for 350,000 tires per year for five years was approved by Divert Nova Scotia, the not-for-profit organization responsible for diverting all of the province’s discarded tires from the landfill. Lafarge will use a third of the discarded tires and the rest will continue to be recycled.

“Most of the emissions won’t change because we are replacing one fuel with another,” Cumming said of culling the plant’s use of coal and petcoke with the introduction of tires. He said the $2-million tire-burning project will result in a 15 per cent reduction in oxides of nitrogen and a 30 per cent cut in carbon emissions.

Mark Butler of the Ecology Action Centre said the decision that states fuel recovery is as good as recycling when it comes to tires is an about-face from a 2014-15 government solid waste review.

Butler also worries about the Lafarge-Dalhousie University association.

“It’s not clear what other science the minister used besides Dalhousie,” Butler said. “You’d want to canvass other scientists.”

Mark Gibson, a Dalhousie University associate resource engineering professor who has been testing tire burns in his lab for nearly a decade, bristles at any suggestion that his team has been colluding with Lafarge or that it has doctored any results.

“I don’t receive any funding from Lafarge directly,” said Gibson, maintaining his academic independence. “The testing that we have done to date, on both tires and coal, have gone to external labs. The emission testing before tires are injected into the kiln and after will be done by an independent certified company that specializes in stack emissions.

“I spend all my time making sure the equipment is measuring correctly. I am not in the game of altering results. That’s defamation.”

Lafarge does fund some of the Dalhousie research but that is the normal academic procedure, he said.

“Lafarge puts money in, government matches and it funds research and equipment for students. I don’t receive anything.”

The minister said his department received about 15 submissions during the public commentary period and people were worried about other emissions aside from carbon.

“My role in this was assessing if the evidence was enough to grant the approval,” Rankin said.

 

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