The Village of Chase is decidedly divided over a contentious proposal to build a wood-pellet plant in town.
On Tuesday evening, more than 250 residents attended a town council public hearing on the rezoning needed to accommodate the project.
Dozens took to a microphone to voice their position during the nearly two-hour meeting with each side equally strong in numbers and in fervour.
Pinnacle Renewable Energy is proposing the $40-million facility, which would create 25 jobs, boost the local economy and generate annual municipal tax revenues of more than $160,000.
Those in support reiterated time and again that the village needs the project because Chase is dying, businesses are closing and the population hasn't increased beyond 2,500 in more than a decade.
Chamber of Commerce manager Elena Markin said she believed Pinnacle's previous presentation that the facility would be "state of the art."
"Guys, we need this for this town," she said. "We need to grow or indeed we're going to die."
A few supporters said their grown children had to leave town against their own wishes because of a lack of jobs.
And the aging population is in need of more young blood, they said.
"This town is dying, but fast," said Grant Currie. "A little bit of sawdust, that's the smell of money."
But the project's proximity to residents — 200 metres from properties, in some cases — has led hundreds to raise concerns over noise, dust, safety, health, environment and the impact on roads.
Longtime resident Joseph Jensen drew laughter, saying he's done his part in helping to boost the population with his 14 kids.
He said that people already have issues with CP Rail's operation, which causes noise, pollution and idling vehicles at its crossings.
"There's no way the situation is going to improve with the mill," he said. "I'm not against anything. I'm for the people, kids, elders who have health issues."
New resident Norton McKay said he opposes the project because he saw the impact of dust, noise and smoke that the same company had on Williams Lake after its pellet plant was built.
"Would you like an elephant in your garden?" he said. "Chase is a nice, clean place. That's why I moved here. Pinnacle is not a clean company."
Paul Gadon said neither the current council nor previous lawmakers have had "the guts to take on major industrial operations like (CP)." And it would be no different with Pinnacle.
"I've lived near industrial operations and it's relentless," he said.
Several residents urged the councillors to pass the rezoning amendments simply so the project could go to its next phase — a provincial environmental assessment.
"It will give concrete evidence to either allay those fears about the dust and the noise pollution or it will cancel (Pinnacle) out," said Jennifer Frye.
Pinnacle president and COO, Leroy Reitsma, wrapped up the meeting by saying that Kamloops is "jealous" of Chase because, in contrast to the Ajax mine proposal, the wood pellet plant process is so community focused.
"That's according to a CBC reporter who interviewed me this morning," he said.
He said the rezoning would provide the company with the security needed to solicit $40 million from banks and investors that's needed to build the plant.
He added that the company is familiar with the environmental assessment requirements and secure in its ability to meet them.
With the public hearing portion over, council members will review the comments, engage First Nations, other levels of government and Interior Health, and then vote on third reading and adoption of the rezoning application.