AMHERST, N.S. – Ronald Dobson doesn’t have a lot of faith in promises being made by regarding an asphalt plant that neighbours his Anson Avenue home.
“It hasn’t been a pleasant experience and I don’t have much faith it will get any better,” said Dobson, who has lived next to the plant for more than 40 years. “It doesn’t belong in this neighbourhood and I don’t know how they’re able to stay. This is a residential neighbourhood.”
Residents have been complaining about the presence of the plant for decades, but things came to a head earlier this fall when a large amount of blue and black smoke began coming from the facility.
Dobson attended a meeting that was organized recently by Cumberland North MLA Elizabeth Smith-McCrossin. She organized the meeting with the owners of Dexter Construction and Costin Paving after being approached by Amherst town councillors Terry Rhindress and Darrell Jones.
“Healthy air is important to our community,” Smith-McCrossin said in a news release. “That’s why I moved quickly to organize a meeting and work on a plan that will allow the plant to operate and local residents to live comfortably. ”Three executives from the Municipal Group of Companies that owns the plant, councillors Terry Rhindress and Darrell Jones, and three representatives from the Department of the Environment met Nov. 23 to discuss the concerns of local residents.”
Smith-McCrossin says the representatives from the company shared their plan to shut the plant down for the season in about a week and to make upgrades that will eliminate the blue smoke and reduce the smell before the plant reopens in the spring.
“I am pleased that the company came to the meeting with solutions,” said McCrossin. “And, I am confident the improvements to the plant will address many of the concerns people have expressed.”
When contacted by the Amherst News about what the company plans to do, Patrick Rooney, Municipal Group of Companies director of manufacturing, said he would not comment.
Dobson doesn’t have a lot of faith anything is going to change. He said he has had a running disagreement with the company as well as with previous owners Costin Paving for many years. He said he has had enough – and so have other neighbours.
“You would be hard pressed to find more than one or two people in this part of town who support it being there,” Dobson said. “It should be out of here, it should have been out of here years ago.”
Along with the smoke and the smell, Dobson said, residents are concerned with the noise coming from the facility early in the morning and said the plant sometimes leaves a fine black film on vehicles and buildings.
“It has been bad for years, but last summer, for some reason, whatever they were doing, it was the worst,” Dobson said.
Next spring, when the plant reopens, he said he’s prepared to invite the mayor and members of town council to come up to his property land live there for a while so they can see first-hand what residents are experiencing.
Rhindress said the last few months were bad and residents were calling him about the smell and the smoke. He’s hoping the company comes through on the promises to make improvements. He is well aware of the concerns.
The plant has been there, under town ownership and later that of Costin Paving, for at least 50 years, said Rhindress. He said there isn’t much the town can do about its presence and there is no bylaw preventing it from operating early in the morning.
The property is zoned residential, but its use as an asphalt plant is a legally non-conforming use that predates the residential zoning. The town doesn’t have the power legally to force it to move as long as its use continues as an asphalt plant.
“It’s something that's been an issue in the area for a long time,” Rhindress said. “I know when I was the janitor at West Highlands school there was a teacher who had to shut the windows because the smell bothered her and she got sick.”
Still, he’s prepared to give the company a chance to live up to its promise to fix the issue with new equipment and a higher stack. He hopes it will alleviate the issue with smoke and the smell.
“Now that we have the commitment we can pressure them to do what they are promising,” Rhindress said. “Now we have to see what they do in April.”