Immediate future of calcium carbonate plant not affected, administrator says

The Ottawa Citizen
Friday, January 02, 2004

The Ontario Liberal government's one-year freeze on new and expanded industrial water-taking permits will not affect the immediate future of OMYA (Canada) Inc.'s controversial calcium carbonate plant near Perth, according to the plant administrator.

Larry Sparks said the Glen Tay plant west of Perth at times uses up to 1.5 million litres of water from the shallow Tay River, the daily maximum allowed under the current permit.

The moratorium applies to uses for products such as bottled water and OMYA's production of calcium carbonate slurry near Perth, using water from the Tay River. The company grinds calcium carbonate from a quarry at Tatlock north of Perth and mixes it with water to make a slurry used to manufacture products such as paper, paint, wallboard, toothpaste, calcium supplements and antacid tablets.

OMYA had planned to apply for permission to use up to 4.5 million litres in January, but increased water use will not be allowed under the terms of the government moratorium designed to preserve water for public use until the province knows how much surplus water is available for industry.

The company's plan to increase the amount of water it takes from the Tay has divided Perth-area residents.

Cottagers and some people living in Perth argued the process would reduce water levels in the river and nearby lakes and limit the town's ability to grow. OMYA supporters said the water-taking is needed to stimulate job creation and economic growth.

Environment Minister Leona Dombrowsky said the moratorium implements a Walkerton commission recommendation that public water supplies be protected. After the moratorium, the Ontario government could require businesses to pay for water removed from the province.

After the province announced the moratorium last month, Mr. Sparks said the Swiss-based multinational company is concerned about the new limits on water usage.

"We are concerned about the moratorium," he said. "We're concerned about the future of the water-taking for our many industries throughout Ontario.

"The provincial government's unexpected moratorium will not only freeze permits, but will also chill job creation, investment and economic growth. We may be facing a year of uncertainty, followed by undefined new regulations and potentially another tax. None of this is helpful to jobs or investment."

Mr. Sparks said the moratorium will have no impact on the immediate future of the plant, but declined to speculate what could happen if the company doesn't get the 4.5 million litres a day OMYA (Canada) Inc. president Olivier Chatillon says it needs.

"We need to understand the regulatory framework the government is going to set up," Mr. Sparks said. "When we understand that we will understand better what impact the moratorium will have."

David Taylor, a spokesman for the lobby group Friends of the Tay River, said OMYA is running at a high production level and has never said it would cut production if it didn't get more water.

"It is highly unlikely they would have to reduce production," Mr. Taylor said. "The only question is how big the company will become. Will the company continue to ask for big increases in water over the years or will it be happy with a certain level of water that has a minimal impact on the community?

"If they increased production to the maximum level possible with the amount of calcium carbonate available at Tatlock there would be 1,000 trucks a day going through the village of Lanark."

OMYA employs about 250 plant and quarry workers and contract truck drivers in the Perth area in one of North America's largest calcium carbonate operations. The company is to present a report on its water-taking at a public meeting in February.