By Stephen Dafoe
Morinville – A delegation of approximately 18 residents came out to support a presentation to Morinville Town Council Tuesday night. Lead by Paul O’Dea, the delegation gathered to express their displeasure at the odour coming from Champion Petfoods’ Morinville plant.
Council and administration toured the facility Aug. 30 at which time it was disclosed Champion intended to spend another $3 million to correct the odour situation but would need another few months to achieve that objective. The local pet food manufacturer had originally promised to have odour mitigation in full working order by August of this year; however, it was discovered that more than just odour mitigation was required to ensure things worked properly.
Mr. O’Dea said he was mindful and respectful of Champion’s role in the community as an employer and tax payer; however, he was also mindful of the company’s negative impact on the community because of the odour problem.
“I think I can say without contradiction that we’re all interested in a positive outcome that addresses the needs of the general public, Champion employees, the Champion organization and all other Morinville businesses,” O’Dea said, noting Champion’s latest information indicates a new deadline of November. “Given our previous experience with plans and postponed deadlines over the past three years, and given that Morinville citizens and the media were not a part of the recent information tour conducted by Champion Petfoods, there’s some questions that need to be put to Champion and one question that needs to be put to council.”
O’Dea questioned Champion on their plans to keep citizens informed on its progress going forward and requested monthly updates to council and the media. The Morinville resident also openly questioned Champion President Frank Burdzy as to what his company’s contingency plans were and how they planned to measure success of the odour mitigation project. “What will success smell like?” O’Dea asked.
The delegate also questioned councillors as to whether or not they would address an air quality bylaw. O’Dea said he was unable to find specifics that would apply to Champion in the Town of Morinville’s new Community Standards Bylaw other than a passing mention of noxious odours, something that carries a maximum fine of $600 on a third and subsequent offense.
“If our experience with Champion Petfoods over the past few years teaches us anything, it teaches us that Morinville must develop a detailed air quality bylaw that states specifically industrial and commercial operations,” O’Dea said. “This should be abundantly clear given the proximity of residential areas to the existing industrial park.”
The resident explained a clear bylaw would set reasonable and fair expectations for industry while providing enforceable standards and a reliable recourse for residents affected by the odour.
Councillor David Pattison questioned Mr. O’Dea as to whether or not he had sought to deal with the matter under the Town’s Community Standards Bylaw. O’Dea indicated he had contacted Bylaw Enforcement but got no return phone call on his query. The resident was also troubled and shocked that in order to contact a Morinville councillor by e-mail he had to go through an “administrative clearing house” rather than simply directly contact his elected representative. “I stand here in disbelief,” O’Dea said of the matter.
Champion President Frank Burdzy was also on hand Tuesday night to make a presentation to council, one where he had the opportunity to directly respond to O’Dea and his delegation.
Burdzy said he did not like delays or wasting time and although it might look like he and Champion were feet shuffling on the matter, they had been working hard to correct the problem. “This is a very complex and complicated issue that we are dealing with,” he said. “Certainly way greater than I anticipated when I joined the organization just over a year ago.”
The Champion president went on to say the company had what he considers one significant failed attempt to remedy the situation, something he publicly apologized for Tuesday night.
With an investment of approximately another $3 million on the horizon to solve the odour problem, Burdzy said there is a desire to be good corporate citizens. “I don’t just mean that as a term that gets tossed around loosely,” he said. “To me the definition of a good corporate citizen would include representing people that work for you and with you well in your organization, in your community and your customer base.”
Burdzy explained the biggest challenge in addressing the odour issue has been finding and identifying the full problem.
“The kitchen was cold so I put in a furnace,” he said by way of explanation. “Then I found when the furnace got installed it was really the chimney and the windows and the insulation and the floor boards.” What started off to be a $400,000 investment is now tallying up to be a $3 million investment.
Burdzy said council had full rights to inflict pain on his company through fines, but he is already experiencing figurative fines through his capital budget and reports on the performance objectives to his boss. “Those are very serious issues for me in my life,” he said.
The president explained the total solution lies in converting what was designed as a standard feed mill operation into a more modern commercial kitchen facility. That transformation will require changing air flow patterns and securing leakage areas as well as changes to the company’s stacks and procedures. The total cost for odour mitigation alone could tally $3.7 million.
Burdzy acknowledged Champion’s communication was not good over the summer and that he felt O’Dea’s request for monthly updates was not onerous. Although unable to speak directly to contingency plans, he acknowledged putting high expectations on the suppliers he is working with to solve the problem and would report back to council with contingency plans once he had answers from the engineers.
Mayor Lloyd Bertschi, who toured the plant last month, reiterated he was impressed with the company’s efforts to solve the problem. “You can see the commitment and the integrity with Frank in his commitment to fixing this problem,” he said, noting he realized it was trying for residents to deal with the smell. Bertschi indicated development agreements are being worked on with the company that sets some requirements but did not elaborate on what those conditional parameters were.