Styro Rail blows smoke over burning question in Wakefield, Quebec

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by Trevor Greenway on April 14, 2011

Styro Rail engineer Simon Martineau speaks to about 100 people at an info session April 9 in Wakefield

Engineers at Styro Rail have no idea what chemicals are released into the air when styrofoam insulation catches fire – and admitting the fact makes some Wakefield, Quebec residents very nervous.

“It’s going to produce, of course, water vapor and carbon dioxide and there is soot, which is a black smoke,” Styro Rail engineer Simon Martineau told a crowd of about 100 people gathered at the Black Sheep Inn April 9 for an info session with the spokesman for the expanded polystyrene company.

“I don’t know exactly what is in the soot, if you want I can check that up and give you an answer,” said Martineau.

The admission seemed to surprise the crowd and they began firing questions at him. Many were shocked that engineers didn’t know what gases were released when their own product burns and requested that the information be put on the company’s website so that the public could be better informed. Many were concerned about neighbouring businesses and homes, including a daycare, a veterinary clinic and a restaurant on Hwy 105.

Martineau countered the public’s concerns by saying that the expanded polystyrene, when burned, will melt into a solid, but won’t ignite. He said any major fire would, if one ever occurred, mainly affect the concrete and steel building itself. Styro Rail is the first business to set up in the municipality’s light industrial park, just south Wakefield.

Another burning question amongst attendees at the meeting revolved around job creation.

La Peche Mayor Robert Bussiere and La Peche council have promoted the park as having the potential to create 100 jobs in its first phase, with more to come.

The job creation issue was raised at the past La Peche council meeting as well as at the April 11 information session, but the meetings produced contradictory answers. Martineau said that 100 jobs would be created at some point, but Bussiere’s claim that 200 jobs would be created was out of the question.

“Our mayor told us this was going to create 200 jobs for people of La Peche, this is one of the lies we have been told by our mayor,” said Laurie Gough of Save our Spring Wakefield, a citizen action group dedicated to protecting the Wakefield spring.

Martineau said the plant will only have 13 new positions by 2013 if all of the current staff comes with the plant.

“Right now we are at about 37 (employees) and if they don’t all come with us, then we will have to replace them,” said Martineau. “Two hundred jobs no, that’s for sure, no.”

Bussiere said that when Martineau came to the municipality to present his business plan, there was talk of 100 jobs. He wasn’t sure if Martineau was referring to 100 jobs total or  to fill new positions.

Bussiere seemed to be more confident at the past council meeting, when he told a packed crowd that the first phase of Styro Rail will produce 100 new positions in La Peche, which is clearly not the case.

The public also wanted to know why Styro Rail chose Wakefield as its destination, as opposed to another location. Martineau replied by saying that the close proximity to the extended Hwy 5, the size of the land and the sense of urgency in La Peche, as the company had been eyeing a move for the past four years.

Wakefield resident Rita Komendant asked if Martineau would buy his wife a house overlooking such a plant. He didn’t answer with a yes or no, but said that there would be no odor, no noise or light pollution from the facility and that the only thing that would change for homeowners would be the view.

“The view is everything,” replied Komendant from the back of the room, leaning against the bar. “Location, location, location.”

“This is a very nice spot, this is one of the reasons I chose this spot also,” said Martineau, his response eliciting shock as well as laughter from the crowd.

The information session also touched on clarifying the difference between styrene and polystyrene, as well as the expropriation of the Pharand family land, which was later sold to Styro Rail.

But as soon as expropriation and political talk entered the discussion, Wakefield councillor Louis Rompre shut it down, saying that such a forum is not the place for political discourse. Many people were disappointed with that, but didn’t blame Styro Rail. They blamed La Peche council for not being transparent enough in the process.