Water ruling disappoints OMYA boss
Pumping 1.5M litres daily from Tay River only one-third of what company wanted
Dave Rogers
The Ottawa Citizen

Thursday, February 21, 2002

The president of OMYA Canada Inc., a Swiss-owned multinational that planned to take millions of litres of water daily from the Tay River near Perth, is disappointed in a tribunal decision that limits the water it can use.

Olivier Chatillon said OMYA is considering its options after the Ontario Environmental Review Tribunal ruled Tuesday that OMYA can extract only 1.5 million litres a day from the shallow, winding river for the next six years.

OMYA mixes river water with ground-up white marble called 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.

In August 2000, the Ontario Ministry of the Environment gave the company a permit to extract 1.5 million litres of water from the river daily until 2008, when it will have to reapply for another permit to keep extracting water. In 2004, the original permit would have allowed OMYA to expand production by tripling its take from the river to 4.5 million litres a day.

The company regards the water limit as a setback. It has 30 days to appeal the tribunal's decision to the courts or Environment Minister Elizabeth Witmer.

"This is unfortunate news for the Perth and Lanark economy," Mr. Chatillon said. "This county has some of the world's best limestone and calcium carbonate deposits, and assured access to a reliable supply of water is crucial to properly developing their potential for the local economy, residents and employees."

He said the company will have to analyse the situation and consider its options. He said it could live with the permit and reapply for another permit when the time comes, appeal to the minister or appeal to the courts.

Mr. Chatillon said OMYA is committed to working with the public to monitor the river. He said the company has no plans for layoffs, but it might not be able to employ a staff of 250 indefinitely.

"Everything is under review, and we need to measure the potential impact of the decision on our operation," he said. "We aren't planning to close, and I don't expect any cuts in the short term. But if we can't produce enough here to sustain market demand, we will produce somewhere else.

Mr. Chatillon said OMYA might need to find an emergency source of water to maintain production. "The ruling requires us to stop pumping water in case of drought," he said. "We are considering several backup solutions and will do what is necessary to secure a supply (of slurry) to our customers.

John Steele, a spokesman for the Ministry of Environment, said the ministry is satisfied with the tribunal's decision because it supports its view that a limited amount of water can be taken from the Tay without harming the river.

David Taylor, president of Friends of the Tay Watershed Association, said none of the opponents of the original water-taking permit will appeal the tribunal's decision.

"In our opinion, the decision reflects a realistic approach to the permit request.