Perth council OKs OMYA land transfer
Firm to pay royalties into fund to maintain, improve Highway 511

Bob Rupert
The Ottawa Citizen

Thursday, September 29, 2005

A last-ditch attempt to delay a road allowance land transfer deal between Lanark County and mineral-processing giant OMYA (Canada) Inc. failed at yesterday's council meeting in Perth.

After hearing former NDP leader and Ottawa MP Michael Cassidy tell them they had agreed to a "deal that went wrong because council failed to get professional advice," councillors voted unanimously in favour of a public works committee recommendation to sign over a one-kilometre stretch of County Road 9 to the calcite mining-processing company. In return, OMYA will pay about $3.6 million to relocate and reconstruct the road.

OMYA will also pay royalties into a trust fund to maintain and improve Highway 511, the main route between the Tatlock quarry in Lanark Highlands Township and the company's processing plant on Highway 7, west of Perth.

Mr. Cassidy, who owns a cottage near the calcite quarry and is a Lanark Highlands councillor, called the deal a "21st century version of highway robbery," and said council should be ashamed for agreeing to it. He said he was appearing before council as a citizen and not as a township representative.

Mr. Cassidy's views weren't shared by everyone at the packed-out council meeting. However, the only other resident to address council about the deal was Jeff Rothwell, who told council he drives one of the trucks that transports the ground white calcite from the quarry to the OMYA processing plant.

Mr. Rothwell said he has lived all of his 44 years in Lanark Village and all he and other long-time residents want is the jobs OMYA generates. He said the people who oppose the deal are newcomers. "I don't think county council wants to get into the mining business."

One of Lanark Highlands' two representatives on the county council, deputy mayor Larry McPhee, had no questions for Mr. Cassidy after his submission to council. The township's other county councilor, Mayor Larry McDermott, was not at the meeting.

Mr. Cassidy said he "regretted" the mayor's absence because Mr. McDermott had reservations about the agreement.

According to Mr. Cassidy, the county had erred in failing to spend the $10,000 it would have cost to have an expert determine the true market value of the calcite (white marble) under the road allowance.

He suggested council go ahead with the land transfer and road construction, but delay approval of the royalty payment arrangement for three or four months and retain expert advice to determine the calcite's real value.

He also said council's works committee had conducted all of its negotiations and deliberations on the deal in closed session and the county's residents would get a "paltry" amount of compensation for "the treasure chest of calcite."

Mr. Cassidy said the county had taken advantage of a legal loophole in the Ontario Municipal Act to turn the land over to OMYA without having any real idea of the calcite's value. He said that if the county had been selling a building or land at least one appraisal of the fair market value would have been required. "But the rule does not apply if a highway is being closed and sold to one or more adjoining owners."

Mr. Cassidy predicted that Lanark County will get only a few thousand dollars a year in mineral royalties from the deal and could wind up with nothing if OMYA fails to increase it annual production from a million to 1.65 million tonnes.