Lanark Residents, Cottagers Battle
Giant Swiss Mining Corporation
By Michael Cassidy,
Tatlock and Ottawa
My wife Maureen and I bought a small cabin at Tatlock three years ago with plans to build an addition, keep things simple, and enjoy Lanarks rural peace and the clean waters of Robs Lake. Little did we know what was brewing just down the road, where a giant Swiss corporation was preparing a huge expansion of a quarry to feed a world-scale processing plant for calcium carbonate products located near Perth.
Three years later we are one of eight individuals or groups who have passed a major procedural hurdle and are appealing the expansion plans of OMYA (Canada) Ltd., which is probably the largest single producer of calcium carbonate products in the world. OMYAs expansion could have serious adverse impacts on the Tay River near Perth; in the vicinity of the OMYA quarry at Tatlock; and for Lanark residents along the Highway 511 corridor and in Lanark village, because of a projected flow of 40 ton trucks from the quarry travelling the corridor every two or three minutes, 24 hours a day and seven days a week.
Besides ourselves the appellants include Lanark residents from Glen Tay, Perth and McDonalds Corners; cottagers from Bobs Lake; an environmentalist from Stittsville; and the Council of Canadians, whose particular concern is OMYAs plan to ship water out of the Great Lakes watershed despite stated Ontario government policy to the contrary.
The issue we are appealing is a permit issued by the Ontario Ministry of the Environment to allow OMYA to take up to 4.5 million litres of water per day out of the Tay River at Glen Tay, 7 km. west of Perth, to be mixed with calcium carbonate to form a slurry that paper companies and other industries are eager to buy at prices of $150 and up per ton.
Calcium carbonate, better known as limestone or marble, is a major product in industry used in everything from paper and plastics to toothpaste and diet supplements. The former Steep Rock quarry at Tatlock that OMYA acquired in the 1990s has an exceptionally large and pure deposit of this mineral.
Ontario has given OMYA a permit to mine up to 4 million tons a year of calcium carbonate, or calcite and another permit to pump up to 3.6 million litres of water per day out of the quarry for dewatering as its operations move below the level of surrounding lakes. The company has invested hundreds of millions to transform its processing plant at Glen Tay, just off Highway 7, into a state of the art facility.
Apart from one Ontario Municipal Board appeal relating to the Glen Tay plant, OMYAs preparations for expansion have attracted little notice. While permit applications relating to the quarry were posted on Ontarios electronic Environmental Registry, few of us have time to be so vigilant as to have seen the posting and responded within 30 days. The permits passed through almost unopposed.
That situation changed when OMYA set out to put the final piece in place for its expansion plan - taking water from the Tay because it had outrun the capacity of local groundwater sources to meet its needs for water. When the permit application was posted to the Environmental Registry, an astonishing 283 letters of concern were sent to the Ontario Ministry of the Environment. Ninety per cent of these letters called for some kind of environmental assessment.
There was universal concern that OMYA wanted water from the Tay before adequate information had been collected about its ability to meet OMYAs needs. The Tay watershed is already stressed because it serves as a reservoir of water to help maintain the Rideau Canal at navigation levels during the summer months. Water levels in Bobs Lake, the chief reservoir lake, drop by four or five feet every summer as water is drawn for the Rideau system.
This concern was compounded by the lack of current data. The last consistent measurement of water flows along the Tay was made over a dozen years ending in 1927. At some times in the year, the Tay is a river of rocks with a flow so low that almost no water gets through to Perth.
Despite these concerns, the Ministry of Environment Director at Kingston granted OMYA a permit in two stages: 1.5 million litres a day starting now, and 4.5 million litres starting in 2004 after completion of some additional environmental testing on the river. Neither the permit nor the Directors justification for it make any mention of the universal concern that was expressed for a proper environmental assessment.
Under Ontarios Environmental Bill of Rights, residents and interested parties have the right to appeal water permits and other environmental decisions if they can win leave to appeal from the Environmental Review Tribunal. This is a difficult process because the grounds for leave are that a decision could harm the environment and that the Director was unreasonable in making his decision. Less than 10 applications have passed this test in the eight years since the EBR was enacted, and only three have made it to an actual appeal.
For this reason the current appeal in Perth is of enormous importance because of the precedents it is setting. At the time of writing in March, lawyers for OMYA and the Ministry of the Environment were locked in a procedural fight with the eight appellants over the scope of the hearing. OMYA and its MOE ally were trying to knock out 90 per cent of the grounds for appeal filed by the various appellants. We, in turn, wanted to continue looking at the broad public interest, including the impacts of OMYAs expansion on North Lanark and the implications of OMYAs plan to ship all the water it takes from the Tay to distant markets and to the United States rather than recycling it.
This procedural fight was due to resume on April 2 and 3. The chair of the Tribunal, Pauline Browes, who is a former environment minister in the Mulroney government, has set the last week in June and the first week in July for the actual hearing. It would not be a surprise if there was more stonewalling and procedural appeals from OMYA and the MOE before that time.
Some of the questions we are trying to address include the following:
- What could be the environmental effects on the Mississippi watershed of expanding OMYAs Tatlock quarry to a production level of four million tons per year, four to six times the present level? Already there are signs that nearby lakes and waterways may be suffering adverse effects.
- At four million tons of production per year, OMYA will require 100,000 round trips with big 26-wheel, 40 ton ore carriers to take its mineral to the plant at Glen Tay. That is equal to some 4,000 truck trips along Highway 511 per week, 600 per day, or about 25 every hour. OMYA has been unwilling to consider alternatives, despite the potential effects not just on residents but on tourist enterprises and on cottagers who are a major contributor to the economy of north Lanark.
- Most directly, what effects will OMYAs proposal to take water from the Tay have on a river which is already stressed because of the use of the Tay watershed as a reservoir for the Rideau Canal system?
Lanark is not the only area to have had problems with OMYA. Although it is normally a very closed, private company, OMYA has been engaged in battles over a ten year period with villagers in a wine-growing area of Provence, in France. This March, it lost an appeal in Vermot State Supreme Court over efforts by local towns and townspeople to control the volume of OMYA trucks carrying ore through their picturesque, tourist-oriented communities. For now, OMYA will have to be satisfied with 115 round trips a day and no trucks at night.
For the present, this is an ongoing story. Readers who would like more information can learn more by contacting Mike and Maureen Cassidy at <firstname.lastname@example.org> or at 613-238-1432.