OMYA won't hurt the Tay: Stockwell
Minister denies company's letter to premier influenced him
April Lindgren
The Ottawa Citizen
Wednesday, February 19, 2003

TORONTO -- The Tay River will not suffer from the Conservative government's decision to allow OMYA Canada Inc. to triple the amount of water it withdraws from the system, Environment Minister Chris Stockwell insisted yesterday.

"Obviously I wouldn't have signed anything that would have jeopardized the water table or the water situation of the Tay River," maintained the minister, who late last week overruled a provincial Environmental Review Tribunal decision that would have curtailed planned water-taking by the Swiss multinational.

Mr. Stockwell said his intervention had nothing to do with a letter OMYA president Olivier Chatillon wrote to Ontario Premier Ernie Eves last June saying that unless his company got the water it wanted, he would advise other investors not to do business in the province.

"I didn't even read the letter; it was silly," said the minister. He refused to comment further, saying his decision could become the subject of a judicial review if opponents to OMYA's water-taking plans pursue the issue before the courts.

The Perth-based firm originally had permission to take up to 1.5 million litres of water per day from the Tay River until Jan. 1, 2004.

After that, the company was authorized to increase the amount taken to a maximum of 4.5 million litres per day until 2010.

A February 2002 ruling by the Ontario Environmental Review Tribunal scaled back that plan, limiting OMYA's water-taking to 1.5 million litres per day through to January 2008.

The tribunal said it was "not satisfied that there has been sufficient evaluation completed to be assured that the ecosystem, the Tay River watershed, would not be harmed" by the withdrawal of 4.5 million litres per day.

Mr. Stockwell's ruling, which in effect restores the original order allowing much higher water taking through to 2010, is outlined in a 15-page document obtained by the Citizen.

A key factor in the minister's decision appears to have been federal Department of Fisheries research that had not been completed prior to the tribunal's decision.

In his written decision, Mr. Stockwell says the fisheries authorities used the best available technology and science to assess the potential environmental effects of the project.

Their final March 2002 report concludes that the proposed water-taking "is not likely to cause significant adverse environmental effects."

Based on that finding, Mr. Stockwell wrote that he is "satisfied that a taking of up to 4.5 million litres of water (per day) will not cause environmental harm. No further studies are needed."

Furthermore, he concluded that "OMYA should be entitled to know with some certainty for a reasonable period of time, what amounts can be taken, in order to permit proper forward planning.

"A large amount of evidence has been amassed to show that a taking of up to 4.5 million litres per day will not cause harm to the environment."

Critics of the provincial government's decision have noted that it runs counter to recommendations from the Walkerton inquiry, which said water permits should only be granted based on the cumulative impact of all activity on area watersheds.

Mr. Stockwell, in his written decision, said the province is working on a plan to protect watersheds.

"Details regarding implementation of source protection planning and the inter-relationships between permits to take water and source protection plans remain to be worked out," he added.

OMYA mixes water with crushed calcium carbonate to produce a slurry the consistency of mustard that is shipped throughout North America to produce quality paper, paint, wallboard, toothpaste, antacids and calcium supplements.