Electronic Thesis and Dissertation Repository

Degree

Doctor of Philosophy

Program

Geography

Supervisor(s)

Dr. Isaac Luginaah

Abstract

This thesis examines responses and reappraisal of a proposed and now operational biosolid (sewage sludge) processing facility, the Southgate Organic Material Recovery Centre (OMRC), in the Township of Southgate in rural Ontario. This research is grounded in geographical literatures related to the geography of health, emotional geography, and risk perception and facility siting. The significance of this research is based on a relative absence of literature on public perceptions of transformed waste products, such as biosolids, in rural landscapes and the need to better understand these perceptions and felt impacts in the context of rural residents’ attachments to place. This is particularly relevant with the current drive towards a circular economy with an increasing acknowledgement of the importance of environmental sustainability put in the context of climate-change. The objectives of the research are to (1) explore the risk perceptions associated with the OMRC and end usage of biosolids; (2) examine how the siting process is affecting residents’ emotional and sensual geographies in time and place, and; (3) examine residents’ reappraisal of an operational facility and reflections on facility siting process that brought the OMRC to their community.

Qualitative interviews with residents and municipal officials were conducted during the OMRC siting process (n=23) in 2012 and three years after the facility became operational, during the fall of 2015 to winter 2016 (n=16). Results show that residents’ perceptions of biosolid recycling were varied and their scalar conceptions of place influenced the duality of perceptions of biosolids either as a waste or resource. Further, residents’ varied place attachments, differential experiences of place change and community level identity threats emerged as important contextually based factors influencing residents’ perceptions. Following facility operations, concerns shifted from primarily anticipatory anxieties to increased facility acceptance, although concerns for invisible impacts remained alongside sustained intra-community conflict. Residents called for meaningful consultation and an increased participatory process rather than merely ‘checking boxes’ throughout the siting process.

Findings contribute to a limited body of research on place-based factors influencing risk perceptions including varied place attachments and the relational experiences of place change. The results also contribute to an emerging field of inquiry into contested “green” developments, which may be considered by some as necessary for broader environmental sustainability and climate change adaptation. Also emerging from this research is a new form of facility siting risk: the social risk of conflict whereby lingering community conflict has led to what I refer to as Confrontational Stigma as it is related to the siting of contentious green facilities. This dissertation also provides practical contributions and policy implications when dealing with contested green developments in polarized communities. This research therefore calls for increased transparency around the uncertainty inherent in the beneficial reuse of biosolids to facilitate dialogue among community members with differing analytical paradigms. Further, it is important for developers and local officials alike to better understand residents’ differential place attachments where a development is proposed. Given the inherent misunderstanding by the proponent, municipal officials and community at large, the use of a third-party facilitator such as a knowledge broker or conflict resolution specialist may seem necessary in situations such as Southgate to help to reconcile the communication deficits apparent in these contentious development proposals.


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