OMYA donated to conservation group
One of several firms, NGOs to fund agency
February 21, 2003
The Ottawa Citizen
The Rideau Valley Conservation Authority, the environmental watchdog that monitors the health of the Tay River near Perth, accepted an $85,000 donation from OMYA Canada Inc. five years ago.
As well, at least two officials from the Rideau Valley Conservation Foundation, the authority's fundraising arm, have links to the company.
Environment Minister Chris Stockwell said last week that OMYA can take 4.5 million litres a day from the river, overruling an Environmental Review Tribunal decision limiting the company to 1.5 million litres daily. OMYA mixes the water with ground calcium carbonate to produce a slurry used to make paint, paper, wallboard, plastics, calcium supplements and antacids.
The conservation foundation accepted the funds five years ago to monitor the flow of the river.
Carol Dillon, an appellant in the Environmental Review Tribunal hearing that granted OMYA up to 1.5 million litres of water a day from the Tay, said yesterday that in her opinion, the 1998 donation and the links between the foundation and the company give the appearance of a conflict of interest.
Ms. Dillon said the conservation authorities responsible for monitoring the quantity of surface water should be funded by the provincial government so everyone knows they are independent.
The authority received $251,000 in grants from more than 100 companies and non-governmental organizations in 2000, according to Canada Customs and Revenue Agency figures. Municipal governments, including the City of Ottawa and the former Regional Municipality of Ottawa-Carleton, provided about $17,000.
Rideau Valley Conservation Foundation and OMYA officials yesterday vehemently denied there was any conflict of interest or an attempt to influence the way water levels are monitored on the Tay.
John Miller, the chairman of the foundation's board of directors, confirmed yesterday he has a land management agreement with the company and harvests corn, soybeans and hay from OMYA land.
Stephen Simmering, the vice-chairman of the board, said he has done engineering work for OMYA since 1994, including water drainage, sewers, roads and providing advice on the company's original water-taking permit.
Mr. Miller denied that there is any conflict of interest. "I have had a land management agreement with them (OMYA) and the previous company that owned the land, to manage the farm property they have buffering the plant," Mr. Miller said.
"I have hay, corn and soy beans. It's none of your damn business how much money I get from it."
Mr. Simmering said there is no conflict of interest because of his engineering work for OMYA.
"I suggested to the conservation authority that OMYA might be receptive to funding a Tay River study," Mr. Simmering said. "They funded the study to a great extent, which was published in June 2000.
"This was well in advance of when they applied for their water-taking permit or knew they were going to do so. I was a key player in the original application to take water. The innuendo that the conservation authority was bought off is unflattering."
OMYA spokesman Rick Anderson said it is outrageous for company opponents to criticize the firm for the donation, because they asked for it in the first place.
"If they feel this puts them in a conflict of interest, they shouldn't have asked for the money and now they should send the cheque back," Mr. Anderson said. "They are happy to take the money and now they complain the company gave it to them."
OMYA Canada president Olivier Chatillon said the pledge was just one of 32 company contributions to Perth-area charities. Mr. Chatillon said OMYA has also made donations to schools, the Royal Canadian Legion Poppy Fund, the Boy Scouts and the Perth Santa Claus parade.
"This commitment was made before we applied for the water-taking permit," Mr. Chatillon said. "When we give money, we don't question how they use it because we are confident it will be used for the benefit of the community.
"I never heard anything about conflict of interest and would be extremely concerned if people think that way. This was just a charitable donation -- I don't see how it can be a conflict of interest."
Mr. Chatillon said the donation was intended to increase scientific knowledge about the watershed and will probably confirm what witnesses said during the hearing.
He said OMYA's critics should recognize the company is a good corporate citizen that works with the community.
With files from Sarah Staples