It is often said that first impressions are everything and a new company's way of introducing a controversial experimental project to the community is no exception.
RII North America decided to hold an informal drop in information session about its proposed Solvent Thermal Resource Innovations Process (STRIP) pilot project in the Iron River area last Tuesday. The company's Jeffrey Schneider told the Nouvelle he found personal, one-on-one conversations to be more productive than a town hall-style meeting.
He said drop-in sessions allow people more flexibility with their schedules and “allows the stakeholder to ask all the questions he or she wants and prevents any individuals with personal agendas from restricting those with credible and genuine questions from getting the answers they deserve.”
Had the meeting been conducted in a town hall format would people have really asked questions considered un-credible or un-genuine? Any people at the meeting with so-called “personal agendas” were likely residents concerned about the wellbeing of their families.
Perhaps, a formal presentation conducted by the company would have alleviated some of their concerns rather than putting the onus on them to try to understand or speak to a representative. Approaching a company representative with his/her own “personal agenda” and trying to understand scientific jargon can be intimidating.
Some residents expressed their desire for the meeting to have been conducted in a town hall format so they could have heard other peoples' questions, perhaps ones they hadn't thought of themselves. Healthy discussion and debate is important in a situation like this.
RII's arguments against holding a town hall meeting are valid, but do not outweigh the need for this style of meeting, in this case.
The MD's industry liaison Denise Hourd had suggested the information session could have been a way of trying to avoid confrontation as there was a lot of “fear-mongering” going on.
It seemed to only perpetuate in this informal environment with people confused, talking amongst themselves and perhaps, intimidated to approach representatives, not knowing where to begin or not fully understanding the technology and scientific aspects.
This so called “fear-mongering” could have been addressed head on and debunked with a town hall meeting. If people's concerns are inaccurate or based on falsehoods, what better way to set the record straight than to explain the truth in front of a crowd?
If the company is confident in its proposed project and its technology, there should not be any fear of avoiding confrontation.
An experimental project dealing with toxic gases, combustion and incinerators will naturally draw up emotional concerns, valid or not, amongst residents living in close proximity; such is the nature of the beast.
RII had the chance to put some of their minds at ease, but did not seize the opportunity.