City Council is currently debating whether to sign on with the Liberty Energy sewage sludge gasification plant which has been in and out of the news for the past few years. The plant will be designed to incinerate and dispose of sewage treatment waste.
City Council is being asked to sign a contract with Liberty Energy, giving the company a valuable service agreement which would help finance their development.
While there is a debate about the viability and environmental credibility of the technology, Council is missing the broader point here. This is being treated as a public works issue but it is much more than that: it is also an economic development, tourism, image, and talent attraction issue.
The problem is that Liberty Energy's plan is not about just creating a facility to handle Hamilton's own waste. If that was the case, you could argue that this would simply be about us taking care of our own waste. Indeed, that was what staff had recommended to Council in the past.
However, Liberty's plans are much bigger. Their plan will have truckloads of sewage sludge coming into our city each day from surrounding communities. We will quite literally be the repository for Ontario's crap. All the spin doctoring and all the "look on the bright side - it's creating jobs" platitudes will not overcome the negative damage this would do to Hamilton's reputation which is finally, FINALLY, starting to change.
Interestingly, city staff had originally recommended against signing a contract, but after former Mayor Larry Di Ianni was hired as a lobbyist by the company, they have now changed their recommendation.
The Liberty Energy plant is going to be a huge step back for Hamilton, a city which is constantly struggling to improve its image to become a place of choice for mobile talent who can pick anywhere to live. Most people are predisposed to thinking negatively about Hamilton and this development will only reinforce the stereotypes that define our image to the world.
At the very least, we should not heavily invest public dollars, through the agreement that is on the table, to help this initiative move forward.
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