The proposed construction of a 12-hectare ethanol plant next to the largest remaining urban wetland in the Greater Toronto Area has Oshawa residents fuming.

FarmTech Energy filed for a rezoning application in early 2008 to build a plant on Gifford Hill, located on the north shore of Lake Ontario, directly upwind of the ecologically significant Second Marsh.

FarmTech chose Gifford Hill because of its access to a nearby harbour, which would allow shipping costs to be kept to a minimum. Government incentives rewarding ethanol production are extremely lucrative: if an ethanol plant does not turn a profit in its first year of operation, it can receive up to $31 million toward capital expenses and up to $20 million toward operating expenses.

Says Brian Braiser, executive director of the Friends of Second Marsh, “It’s counterproductive, to say the least, to put an ecosystem that acts as a carbon sink at risk to produce a fuel that is debatably designed to reduce carbon output. Whether or not ethanol is a fuel that will help to reduce carbon emissions is still up for discussion.”

The marsh was the site of a $1-million rehabilitation project completed in 2002 through Ducks Unlimited Canada. Braiser argues that an ethanol plant would affect the marsh in numerous negative ways. Noise, blowing corn dust and light pollution would probably have a negative effect on the habitat for breeding birds, amphibians and species at risk in the wetland.

“Ultimately, this is a bad decision; this is the wrong place to put this plant, and the community seems to know that,” says Braiser. “The people of Oshawa have fought to save this marsh before, and we’ll do it again.”

by Amber Cowie