OMYA appeals Tay River decision

Multinational firm wants to take more than 1.5-million litres of water daily
Dave Rogers and Peter zimonjic
The Ottawa Citizen

Thursday, March 21, 2002

A Swiss company that planned to take millions of litres of water a day from the Tay River near Perth is appealing a tribunal decision that limits the water it can use.

Company president Olivier Chatillon said OMYA Canada Inc., was disappointed with an Ontario Environmental Review Tribunal ruling that allows OMYA to extract 1.5-million litres a day from the shallow winding river for the next six years.

OMYA was originally granted a permit in August 2000 by Ontario's Ministry of the Environment to extract the water from the Tay.

In 2004, the permit would let OMYA move into Phase 2, which would allow the firm to triple its take from the river, to 4.5-million litres a day.

But in a ruling from Ontario's Environmental Review Tribunal Feb. 19, OMYA's Phase 2 was eliminated and the company's take was cut to 1.5 million litres per day until 2008, when OMYA will have to reapply for another permit to keep extracting water.

OMYA mixes river water with ground-up calcium carbonate to make a thick slurry used to produce such products as paper, paint, plaster board and toothpaste. The slurry, which is about the consistency of mustard, is shipped by truck and train throughout North America.

The company employs more than 250 people and injects about $20 million a year into the Perth economy.

OMYA has filed appeals with the courts and with Environment Minister Elizabeth Witmer.

"It is unfortunate OMYA is forced into this decision, but the ERT's error-ridden hearing and ruling have left us little choice," Mr. Chatillon said yesterday.

"Over the last two years, no fewer than nine different ministries and agencies in two levels of government have examined our proposed water use along with numerous independent experts commissioned by both governments and our company."

Mr. Chatillon said all the experts have judged the proposed water use to be environmentally responsible and sustainable.

A key finding in the 85-page ruling in February by vice-chairwoman Pauline Browes, however, said there was insufficient information on the environmental impact of taking the increased amount of water, and she concluded that "additional assessment needs to be completed before the full amount of water can be taken."

The company said in a news release yesterday the tribunal ignored or misunderstood the evidence presented during months of hearings and exceeded its authority by imposing conditions beyond those allowed by environmental law.

"The overwhelming weight of scientific and environmental evidence has clearly supported this project," Mr. Chatillon said.

"We will do what we can in the short term to carry on business as usual in these difficult circumstances, and we hope that the uncertainty will soon be cleared up."

James Dunn of the Council of Canadians, one of the groups fighting OMYA's efforts to extract additional water, says the tribunal decision was a compromise that balanced economic development with the need to protect the Tay River, which is a primary source of drinking water for the people of Perth.

Mr. Dunn says OMYA has tried to reverse the compromise by splitting the community over the need for jobs with the need for environmental security.

"We're not surprised that they have appealed because they have shown a real contempt for the public process since the beginning," says Mr. Dunn.

"They are requesting an enormous amount of water, they wanted 1.6 billion litres a year. That is 50 per cent more water than all the water that leaves the country each year as beverages, soft drinks and beer," he says.

Mr. Dunn says OMYA has shown an attitude of impatience, greed and arrogance with the hearing process and the move to appeal the decision shows the company's true colours with respect to its commitment to Perth.

"OMYA could leave tomorrow but the people of Perth are going to be there for a long time," says Mr. Dunn.

"Their families, their grandchildren, their parents live here, these people have roots in the community."