Tay River decision months away
Tribunal to decide if OMYA's permit to take water is valid
Dave Rogers
The Ottawa Citizen

Thursday, November 01, 2001

PERTH -- At the end of a six-week environmental hearing into the future of the Tay River, Perth residents and cottagers remained bitter yesterday about OMYA (Canada) Inc.'s plans to take millions of litres daily from the river.

Ontario's Environmental Review Tribunal has been considering an appeal of a permit allowing OMYA, a Swiss-owned multinational company, to remove up to 1.5 million litres of water a day from the Tay River, which runs through Perth, about 100 kilometres west of Ottawa.

In 2004, the permit would allow OMYA to triple its water-taking to 4.5 million litres a day if environmental studies show no adverse impacts. The amount is slightly more than Perth used for drinking water in 2000.

OMYA wants to mix most of the water with ground-up calcium carbonate to make a slurry used in paper, paint and toothpaste. The mixture is shipped all over North America in tanker trucks and rail cars. OMYA now uses about 650,000 litres of groundwater a day, most of which ends up in the product.

After six weeks, the tribunal has finally wrapped up hearings into the issue. However, parties can make further written submissions until Nov. 15. Tribunal chairwoman Pauline Browes said she will now prepare a written decision, but it could be weeks or months until it is ready.

Opponents of OMYA's plans said they didn't believe evidence from the company and Ministry of the Environment that the plant west of Perth would have a negligible impact on the river.

Seven community group representatives argued that OMYA's plans would reduce the already sluggish river to a trickle, damage nearby lakes and possibly harm fish and wildlife.

Sulyn Cedar, chairwoman of the Lanark Citizens Action Group said aboriginal warnings and land claims were ignored. "Native elders have warned that there will be profound consequences from water taking," she said. "We should consider water as the blood of Mother Earth.

"When a small amount of blood is taken there are no apparent consequences. But the consequences of repeated water taking will be incremental. What price will we pay later?"

Former MP Michael Cassidy who has a cabin near the OMYA quarry, argued that the permit failed to consider the ecological impact of removing water and the 100,000 truck trips a year the plant will require.

"A permit that allows a five-fold increase in OMYA's production will bring a similar increase in calcite production and heavy trucks transporting the material between Tatlock and Glen Tay. Such an expansion has the potential to cause enormous harm to the environment and to the social and economic future to a large area of northern Lanark County."

Jim Ronson, chair of the Perth Community Association, said people in the town are still angry about the company's plan to remove water from the river.

"If we diverted the Tay River to the United States, the government of Canada would be all over anybody who proposed that," Mr. Ronson said. "But when the mechanism is a long series of tankers the federal government backs off.

Ministry lawyer Douglas Watters said evidence showed the water taking involved the "movement of a product" and that the decision to grant the permit was sound. He said the position of the permit's opponents was contrary to the law and capable of having a devastating economic and social impact.

"The reductions at the stream level are localized and insignificant," Mr. Watters said. "Overall the evidence suggests that the taking will be well within the normal variations of the river."

OMYA lawyer Alan Bryant said the Environmental Review Tribunal's decision on the Tay must be a rational one, based on evidence, not "emotion or ideology" no matter how sincere the belief. He said 95 to 99.1 per cent of the river will remain available after the company takes the maximum amount of water allowed in 2004.