By Stephen Dafoe
Morinville – Deputy Mayor Paul Krauskopf had some harsh words for Champion Petfoods President and CEO Frank Burdzy Tuesday night, urging the head of the local manufacturing plant to return to Morinville Town Council in January of 2011 with some concrete solutions on what the plant was doing to mitigate the smell emanating from its stacks.
Burdzy had come to the Oct. 26 council meeting to respond to a public delegation concerned about the plant’s odour and to answer questions from council members. Burdzy’s appeal included a PowerPoint presentation on who and what the company was, its standing in its industry and among business, and the company’s desire to be a good corporate citizen within Morinville.
“That good corporate citizen and trust has gone out the door, as far as I’m concerned,” Krauskopf told Burdzy, adding the quality of life for many Morinville residents had gone out the door along with it.
The Deputy Mayor went on to chastise the company for its plan to move its offices and some warehousing from Morinville to Edmonton while leaving the smell behind. “That’s a slap in the face,” Krauskopf said.
Burdzy defended the company’s decision as being one necessary, given the limited footprint the factory has in Morinville. The Champion president said an additional 115,000 square feet of warehouse space was needed to meet demands for its product and that to build additional warehouse space in Morinville would take six to eight months.
Prior to Champion’s presentation, council heard from two Morinville residents: Lucas Perry and Matthew Christopher, both of whom were concerned about Champion’s contribution to Morinville’s air quality.
Perry said he grew up in Morinville, attended the University of Alberta, and had since moved back to Morinville with his wife and two daughters. The Morinville father said he had many fond memories of growing up here.
“One of my fond memories is of smelling the start of a fresh rain at the start of a storm,” Percy said, adding his fear was his daughters’ memories would be the smell of dog food.
Percy said over the summer he had to bring barbecue guests indoors because the smell of the plant was overpowering the smell of the meat he was cooking on his barbecue. Additionally, the complainant told council he had to have his windows closed on what he regarded as the hottest day of the summer.
But for Percy, the smell is not merely associated with life in his and his neighbour’s yards. “Driving here, I could smell Morinville before I could see Morinville,” he said, adding he wonders how great an effect it is having on local businesses and those looking to sell homes in Morinville. “We’re paying with the very air we breathe.”
Beyond the economic and social concerns, Percy said he was concerned that what is coming out of the plant’s stacks may be harmful to residents, something Champion has denied, stating the emissions are purely the normal process of cooking their natural ingredients and that they add no chemicals in the manufacturing process.
“We’re made to breathe oxygen not the off gases of industry,” Percy told council, noting that what has often been deemed to have no effect on a person’s health is often found to be quite harmful at some future point. “Champion, left to their own devices, is not coming up with a solution.”
Percy suggested council take a zero-tolerance approach to emissions and odours, setting meaningful fines for violators and stopping new developments or expansions of old until compliance had been proven.
It was a point of view shared by fellow complainant Matthew Christopher, who told council that as a husband with two dogs, only half of the family agreed the smell coming from Champion was an acceptable thing.
Christopher advocated council to come up with a strong air quality bylaw for Morinville with escalating fines that would make it financially unviable for businesses to pollute the community’s air.
Like Percy, Christopher said he was concerned with possible health issues, stating he was not concerned with the particulate matter coming out of Champion’s stacks as much as he was with the volatile Organic compounds (VOC).
Christopher told council that during the election campaign it had been brought up several times that council and administration had been working closely with Champion, and he called on council to provide residents with a time line of action items that have gone on up to this point.
Responding to the residents’ concerns, Burdzy told council the odour is not something Champion wished to ignore and that he had come to give further information and to clarify some misconceptions that had been raised during the election campaign. Chief among them was the notion that the $500,000 plasma-injector system the plant installed in June was broken and the company did not wish to repair it.
“We’ve been at it every single week,” the president said of his company’s interaction with the system’s manufacturer to tweak the existing system. As well as looking at other technologies to help mitigate the odour. “I accept and acknowledge we are not in an ideal situation. We’re not resting on that.”
One area of concern to Burdzy is the fact that the estimated 80 per cent mitigation rate that had been hoped for when the company’s plasma-injector system was installed last spring has not been realized. “I’m not satisfied that we are there,” he said, adding the company had been told 80 per cent mitigation rates were achievable.
While just how close the company will be able to get to hat number remains to be seen, Burdzy said it is unlikely that 100 per cent mitigation would be possible because he had yet to see any technology capable of that. The Champion president said there would be some fluctuations in the odour, depending on high and low air pressure, wind direction and even plant related issues, including ambient odour from the opening of warehouse doors.
The Champion president said while the company, historically, has not gone seeking public feedback, they were hoping to organize a series of open houses to give residents an opportunity to look at the operation themselves.
Councillor David Pattison said he was impressed with the company’s awards of recognition for the quality of their product, but felt Champion’s real challenge would be in trying to obtain awards for its emission standards.
Deputy Mayor Krauskopf seemed less impressed in hearing about the company’s accolades. Krauskopf said he wanted the president to return to council in January, giving him some pointed specifics as to what he did and did not want to hear at that time.
“I don’t want to hear about awards,” Krauskopf said. “I want to hear something concrete.”