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Metro Van bills FVRD for incinerator info request

The Fraser Valley Regional District is welcome to detailed information on Metro Vancouver's Waste-to-Energy incinerator plans, but at a cost.

FVRD wants access to every Metro Vancouver document related to the incinerator, going back a year and a half.

In exchange, Metro Vancouver demands nearly $5,000 in fees to fulfill the Freedom of Information (FOI) request.

"We want to see the technical documents, we want to see all the back-and-forth, and see what's going on, and how far along the process are they that we're unaware of," said Paul Gipps, Chief Administrative Officer at FVRD. "We need to know if we're just going through steps and actions, and the decisions are already partly made. If they've already chosen to go in a certain direction, with a certain type, or a certain location, or any of that. We need to know, when we put information out there, or when we talk to them, that they're listening openly rather than just hearing what we have to say."

FVRD doesn't believe that it currently has all WTE-related information.

"We think there's more going on. This way we'll find out if there is. And if there isn't, it's good to have that information anyways," said Gipps.

A consulting company hired to oversee the WTE procurement process, HDR Corp., decided not to renew its contract in December because of an email between the company and Metro Vancouver showing bias toward certain technologies.

This triggered FVRD's request to view all of Metro Vancouver's WTE documents and communications.

"Waste-to-Energy is the biggest thing affecting the Fraser Valley Regional District right now, and we're taking it very serious, and we want Metro (Vancouver) to understand that they need to take our concerns very serious," said Gipps.

FVRD originally submitted its FOI request on Feb. 21, 2013. On March 1, Metro Vancouver replied that to provide these documents, FVRD will need to pay $4,942. This covers the estimated 78 hours of work, and 10,750 photocopies. Metro Vancouver will not begin the process without an initial deposit representing half of the total amount.

FVRD responded on March 28 with a request to waive this fee on the grounds that the records relate to a matter of public interest, in line with Section 75(5) of the Freedom of Information and Privacy Protection Act.

Metro Vancouver refused to waive the fee.

"I do not understand how the records relate to a matter of public interest or how they directly relate to the environment, public health or safety," replied Chris Plagnol, Metro Vancouver's Information and Privacy Coordinator. "Further, Metro Vancouver does not believe disclosure of thousands of records can reasonably be expected to benefit the public."

Metro Vancouver's failure to see how this disclosure relates to public interest is "unsettling," according to Stacey Barker, FVRD's Manager of Environmental Services. She recommended last week that FVRD send a letter to the Information & Privacy Commissioner, requesting a review of Metro Vancouver's refusal to provide a fee waiver.

Gipps agrees that the public interest element is self-evident.

"It's clearly in the public interest. 450,000 residents in the Fraser Valley area are going to be directly impacted by this, and that's very significant to us," he said. "We represent a lot of people, and we're all very concerned about our health and well-being out here in the Valley."

FVRD does not have a seat on the expert panel that oversees WTE plans. If this panel recommends to build an incinerator on Fraser Valley land, then FVRD will take part in the environmental assessment working group, as mandated by the Ministry of Environment.

FVRD expects to use the information collected through the FOI to inform its decision-making at the working group, as well as guide its responses to Metro Vancouver's WTE plans.

akonevski@theprogress.com
twitter.com/alinakonevski
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