Dozens of frustrated residents from the community, along with the Whitbourne council and Whitbourne Fire Department, gathered together in front of the town office Tuesday evening.
The protest was formed in order for residents to voice their concerns about a proposal to build an organic composting plant on Argentia Access Road, only a short distance from the town.
Metro Environmental Services is proposing the building to handle carcasses such as mink, fish and chicken.
Residents showed up at around 6:30 p.m., some with signs featuring phrases such as “not in my backyard,” others just looking to express their concerns about the proposal.
Mayor Hilda Whelan told The Compass that building a composting plant within Whitbourne’s borders would cause more problems than the town is ready to handle.
“At the end of the day it’s just not safe for the town,” Whelan said.
“It’s not just about the smell; it’s the fact that we as a town aren’t prepared to deal with the other problems that would come with this kind of facility. Our firefighters just don’t have the proper training or equipment to deal with that kind of fire because it’s never been something they’ve had to deal with.”
Scott MacDonald, a captain with the local fire brigade, said that the main concern of the department is that the construction of the composting plant would have them potentially facing fires with which they are completely unfamiliar.
“I’m confident in saying that we as a fire department would be able to handle anything, with the proper training and equipment of course,” he said.
“But that’s the thing. In order for us to be properly trained and outfitted for these kinds of fires, it would cost tens of thousands of dollars, and as far as we can tell, we’d be expected to handle all that ourselves.”
MacDonald said that the 28-man brigade recently did their research into fires from composting facilities and came to the conclusion that building a composting plant so close to town is a risk for the community as a whole.
Further research by the brigade indicated that the proper suit for handling such a fire costs around $1,200 a piece, resulting in costly purchases just to properly outfit the firefighters, without including the cost of the required training.
Residents who were present at the protest also noted that the composting plant would affect not only Whitbourne, but also neighbouring communities such as Markland, which would be a similar distance from the plant as Whitbourne.
“It’s really not the smell that everyone’s concerned about, I don’t think,” said MacDonald.
“They’ve tried proposing this to several towns in Newfoundland now, and it’s wrong for them to just throw it at us and say ‘deal with it because nobody else would.’ If it didn’t work anywhere else, why on earth would it work here? People live here. It’s a community. Things like this need to be planned out better.”
Whitbourne resident Trevor Reid attended the protest hoping to voice his concerns as well.
He told The Compass that the town of Whitbourne isn’t protesting the building itself, but rather, the proposed placement.
“We have no issues with the plant. I don’t think anyone here is looking to stop the construction of the plant itself,” said Reid. “We just don’t want it here. There’s so much space in this province. So many paved roads that lead hundreds of kilometres away from communities. Why not build it there? Surely there are better places than Whitbourne.”
The composting plant is currently under environment assessment by the provincial govermment.
Deadline for public comments on the proposal is this Thursday, May 18. Environment and Climate Change Minister Perry Trimper’s decision is due on May 25.
Tuesday’s protest lasted about an hour, ending around 7:30 p.m. as heavy rain started to fall.