Chase votes for pellet plant rezoning

Councillors swayed by propect of increased tax revenue

CHASE - Saying the village would benefit from the jobs and an anticipated tax-revenue boost of about $75,000 a year, councillors voted unanimously to rezone land for a proposed wood pellet plant.

Their reasoning did nothing to sway opponents to the Pinnacle Renewable Energy Group project. Many of them filled the 96 seats at the Chase Community Hall for a council meeting Tuesday afternoon.

Once all five council members voted to rezone land on Aylmer Road from residential to industrial, the majority of people in the hall got up and left.

"That's it?" one woman said of councillors' swift decision.

Councillors Steve Scott and Rod Crowe said a few words before casting their vote. They also acknowledged how controversial the $40-million project has become.

Scott said the cost of developing homes on Aylmer - which was industrial land for 100 years before it was zoned residential - would be too expensive for developers.

"The cost versus profit for a developer would be nonexistent," he said. "Potential residents would have to pay a high price and have the stigma of living on an old industrial site."

Chase needs a varied tax base and be affordable for people to live, but business owners cannot shoulder a larger portion of municipal taxes and survive, he said.

If approved, the Pinnacle project would put at least $70,000 to $75,000 - the equivalent of a four-per-cent tax increase - into village coffers, said Crowe. This would help pay for a number of much-needed improvements.

He said Cottonwood Street needs $300,000 in repairs and the sewage treatment operation requires $1 million in upgrades.

While the town has a lot of seniors, it is also home to many young families who would benefit from jobs at the plant, he said.

"I believe this (project) is in the best interest of the whole community," said Crowe.

And with that, council voted to rezone Aylmer Road.

Few who gathered outside the hall after were surprised at council's decision, but they were disappointed. Jocelyn

Nash accused councillors of being adversarial toward the project's opponents.

She has a 308-signature petition demanding a referendum on the matter, but council wouldn't accept it because it came together after a Nov. 12 deadline for submission, said Nash.

"I've been frustrated by this," she said.

Annelise Grube-Cavers lives on VLA Road, which is one of the potential routes some 50 tractor-trailers a day could take to the plant. She said the road is dangerous now and the trucks won't help.

Her family runs a farm, and she's worried about what particulate matter from the plant will do to the animals and crops - not to mention people in the valley.

"The idea of this happening next to a beautiful river is absurd," she said.

Mayor Ron Anderson said this was just a first step in the process. Pinnacle has a lot of hurdles to overcome - including a provincial environmental assessment.

Anderson hopes the plant becomes a reality, saying it will be good for Chase.

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