Perth will pay for OMYA deal, group says
Association fears higher taxes, curtailed development. Decision not handled properly: Guzzo
Sarah Staples
The Ottawa Citizen

Thursday, February 20, 2003

The head of Perth's community association says development in the town will be severely curtailed because of Environment Minister Chris Stockwell's decision to allow OMYA Canada Inc. to siphon 4.5 million litres of water a day from the Tay River.

Jim Ronson said area companies could wind up footing higher property tax bills to repair the roads and bridges over which ever-greater amounts of the crushed stone slurry which OMYA sells will be trucked.

He said other firms won't want to relocate to communities along the Tay River without guarantees of enough water to support their development.

The Swiss multinational mixes water with pulverized calcium carbonate to produce the watery sludge, which it sells to North American manufacturers for a variety of products.

Mr. Stockwell last week overturned an Environmental Review Tribunal decision and scrapped a planned Ontario Divisional Court review, enabling the company to increase the amount of water it takes from the river to 4.5 million litres a day.

Mr. Ronson, who is seeking the nomination as the NDP candidate in Lanark-Carleton for the provincial election, said the decision could stall plans by Perth to build a subdivision to eventually house 2,000 people. The town's current population is 6,000.

He also said the minister had failed to take into account the combined water needs of the proposed subdivision, the town of Perth and the Perth golf course, which has a permit to take 527,000 litres per day "in perpetuity" from the river.

Highway 511 is strained under its current load of trucks, and the county road and bridges could also expect significant repairs as production ramps up at the slurry facility.

Meanwhile, Ottawa MPP Garry Guzzo took aim at the way his government handed down the controversial decision.

"It's a mistake, how it was handled. It's a classic example of not the decision, but how it was handled, being the problem," said Mr. Guzzo, who has a cottage in the Tay River area. "I knew it (the decision) was coming, but I never expected it to come on a Friday afternoon in a press release."

Mr. Guzzo said he's confident increased water-taking won't threaten the water system, while the environment minister has insisted his approval was granted based on sound science.

But Kevin Hall, a professor of civil engineering at Queen's University, disagrees.

"They haven't done the proper studies to definitively assess what's going to happen," said Mr. Hall, who is scientific director of the university's Centre for Water and the Environment.

Although the water level of individual wells isn't likely to be significantly affected, he said the Tay water table is artificially controlled through a series of dams, which makes environmental changes difficult to predict.

"You're going to withdraw water from a system that isn't behaving naturally. There have been a number of smaller studies; bits and pieces here and there. But looking at withdrawing water in a broader overall context; looking at the whole watershed, at the adjustments that could be made to the regulation of the Tay River that would have less of an impact -- all that still needs to be evaluated."

Bruce Reid, of the Rideau Valley Conservation Authority, said his organization, which makes recommendations on water quality, will recommend its board of directors vote to endorse the province's decision during a meeting set for tonight.

"The scientific information is sound for this permit, though it hasn't had the kind of detail that has convinced the skeptics."