Councillors not unanimous in vote to approve water-based cremation service
Council approved the discretionary use application by Swift Current Funeral Home to install an alkaline hydrolysis unit for water-based cremation, but the vote was not unanimous.
City administration took additional time to consider this application and City General Manager for Planning and Development Michael Ruus presented his report and recommendation at a regular council meeting, Nov. 5.
He recommended that the application for the installation of an alkaline hydrolysis unit for water-based cremation be approved, subject to certain conditions outlined in his report.
Six council members supported the recommendation, but Councillor Ron Toles voted against the motion to approve the discretionary use application.
Toles noted during the discussion before the vote that he had a productive meeting with the applicant and he believed City administrators did their homework and due diligence, but he also heard from a lot of residents about this matter.
“I've had a lot of people calling me with concerns about the change in designated use, and I know change is always fearful and no-one has a crystal ball, we can't predict the future, and so I hear what they're saying and I've been inundated with calls over this issue,” he said. “I'm convinced that the process is safe, but at the same time I'm not convinced that the people who live in that area are going to be satisfied with the decision we make tonight, and even though I may personally think that things are fine, I'm going to choose to vote no on this bylaw tonight just because I think that there's some people who would like to do that.”
Councillor Ryan Plewis acknowledged that there were concerns about this application and he wanted residents to know that those concerns were heard.
“We have tasked our administration team with going out and specifically looking at those concerns and to bring an answer back to us, not to bring an answer back to us that supports any one recommendation, but to bring an answer back to us what tells us what the deal is,” he said.
He felt those concerns, while still valid, were properly addresses as a result of the work done by City administration.
“I can say, at least from the information that we've received back, in particularly given that there's been some conditions added on top of that, I think that the change of use is satisfied and there's no real objective reason why we shouldn't allow this to happen,” he said.
Councillor Pat Friesen was glad City administration took extra time to do their due diligence and she was satisfied that her concern about the safety of citizens was addressed.
“After reading through everything and through all the discussion I feel very comfortable that it is safe, and particularly with the conditions that are being put in place along with this,” she said. “I'm very comfortable that it will be a safe process and safe for the citizens that live close by.”
Councillor Chris Martens said he was very conflicted on this application, but the conditions that will be in place will address his main concern about the safe storage of the dry chemicals.
Mayor Denis Perrault noted that the conditions on this development were the result of the concerns raised by the community.
“This is ultimately the result of our community working together with administration,” he said. “So we're grateful for that.”
This type of application is a discretionary use under the terms of the City's zoning bylaw and therefore requires a motion at a council meeting to approve the development.
The application process requires that property owners within a 75-metre radius are notified of the application and that a public hearing is held.
The public hearing took place at a regular council meeting, Oct. 9. Swift Current Funeral Home representatives provided details about their application, and a local resident made a submission to oppose the installation of an alkaline hydrolysis unit at this location.
The City received 12 written submissions. There were six letters of concerns or opposition and one letter of support from residents within the 75-metre notification area, as well as four letters of concern or opposition from residents outside this area.
During the extended review period the City considered additional information from the applicant and other provincial authorities, governing agencies and industry professionals.
“We needed additional time just to go through all of the feedback that was received from the public and just explore some of the questions that were being raised,” Ruus said after the meeting.
After considering all the information and the best practices and industry standards for this alkaline hydrolysis unit, City administration felt the application can be approved with the inclusion of some conditions.
“In the end it really boils down to does it meet the zoning bylaw requirements, building setbacks, and these kinds of things, does it pose a health and safety risk to the neighbourhood, and does it impede orderly development of the surrounding properties,” he said.
Swift Current Funeral Home will have to comply with various conditions that are listed in the report presented at the council meeting.
The development cannot cause any negative impact to neighbouring properties due to noise, odour, vibration, heat or other nuisance. A maximum of 250 kilograms or 10 bags of the dry-form chemicals can be delivered to the site, and it must be stored inside the principal building.
Any discharge to the City's sewer system must comply with the water and wastewater utility bylaw and the pH levels must be between 5.5 and 10.
The development must comply with all relevant municipal, provincial and federal bylaws, standards and regulations for the operation of an alkaline hydrolysis unit.
The funeral home must provide a remediation plan to the City's Planning and Development Division. This plan must include details on the method that will be used to contain any spills.
“One of the comments that had come up from the public is in essence if the equipment fails, what happens if there’s an alkaline output that’s being released from the piece of the equipment and potentially going beyond the boundary of the building,” Ruus said. “The way we’re trying to mitigate that risk is by requiring that remediation plan and trying to prevent any output from being released beyond the property boundary as well as the storage of all chemical to be within the principal building itself.”
He added that their research of the equipment and the alkaline hydrolysis process indicated that there are already a number of built-in fail-safe procedures and the risk is therefore very low.
“So this is just an extra precaution on the municipal side to help the neighbourhood understand that we are listening to them and we want to try and ensure that if anything did happen that those risks are being greatly mitigated,” he said.