The future of Colacem Canada’s proposed cement plant is uncertain, after Champlain Township council voted against the project on Tuesday evening, and the United Counties of Prescott and Russell council voted in favour of it Wednesday morning.

Champlain Township rejected a zoning change request from Colacem, while the United Counties council approved an amendment to the official plan.

The company needs both in order to go ahead with plans to build a cement plant on Highway 17 outside L’Orignal, beside its existing limestone quarry. In a report, Louis Prévost, director of planning and forestry at the Counties, recommended adopting both changes.

But on Tuesday night, in front of a packed room, Champlain Township council rejected Colacem’s request in a 6-2 vote. Councillors Marc Seguin and Pierre Perreault voted in favour of the zoning change, and Councillor Normand Riopel abstained from voting and was not in attendance, citing a conflict of interest. The audience cheered at the result of the vote.

Councillor Helen MacLeod said she didn’t feel the proposed development was appropriate for the area. “I felt it was a big leap from rural policy to heavy industry – it didn’t even go from commerce to heavy industry, it went from, it seemed to me, one side of the spectrum right to the other. So I had a hard time with that,” she said after the meeting.

Champlain Township also went on to support a resolution which said concerns about “visual pollution, air pollution, noise pollution, incompatibility of land use, and potential property value loss” influenced the decision of council to reject Colacem’s request for a zoning change.

Andre Chabot, spokesperson for the group Action Champlain, which has been advocating against Colacem’s proposed project, said he was somewhat surprised by the decision. “It’s not something you generally see,” he said. “Today we realized even if the (planner’s) report was in favour of it, our politicians listened to us, listened to their public and supported their public.”

Marc Bataille, technical director for the proposed plant, attributed the decision to a misunderstanding of the project. “It seems like all the studies we did, that took a year to produce, were not well communicated,” he said. “We’re meeting all the requirements. We believe the project is a good project…our challenge is going to be informing the public.”

UCPR council supports project

On Wednesday morning, the United Counties council considered a request for an official plan amendment from Colacem. After a brief presentation from Prévost, council voted in favour of the change.

Hawkesbury Mayor Jeanne Charlebois, Champlain Township Mayor Gary Barton, and East Hawkesbury Mayor Robert Kirby voted against Colacem. Clarence-Rockland Mayor Guy Desjardins, Russell Mayor Pierre Leroux, and The Nation Mayor Francois St-Amour voted to approve the company’s request. Because of the way votes are counted at the United Counties council, that meant Colacem’s request was approved 16-7.

After the vote, Chabot expressed disappointment with the decision. He criticized the mayors for voting without a debate. “It’s unacceptable that a vote would be taken so quickly, without any discussion,” he said. Action Champlain has hired lawyer Ronald Caza, he said, who will be meeting with community members on February 9 to explain what recourse the they might have in this situation. Action Champlain members will then decide if they will appeal the decision of the United Counties to the Ontario Municipal Board.

Bataille, on Wednesday, said the company hasn’t yet decided if they will appeal Champlain Township’s decision to the Ontario Municipal Board. He said while it’s clear there are members of the public who oppose the project, there are also those who support it, but they “don’t publicize it as much.”

The crowd at Tuesday evening’s Champlain Township council meeting.

Planning report

The United Counties planning report says approving zoning change requests from Colacem Canada would “represent good planning,” but acknowledges many members of the public have raised “legitimate” concerns about the company’s proposed cement plant outside L’Orignal.

Colacem Canada is proposing a cement plant on its property on County Road 17, outside L’Orignal, where it already operates a limestone quarry. The property’s current zoning doesn’t allow for a cement plant – Colacem had asked for part of the land to be rezoned as “Industrial Heavy,” which would allow for the “heaviest industrial uses.”

The counties report says Champlain Township and the United Counties have received about 200 written submissions from residents on the proposed zoning changes. “It is fair to say that the overwhelming majority of the comments raised during the public consultation process are against the cement project,” it says. The report says most comments received can be put into one or more of the following categories: concerns over harmful chemicals being released into the air and water, an increase in vehicles on County Road 17, agricultural and rural character of the area, compliance with  provincial regulations, and property values. The report quotes a letter from a Hawkesbury resident which argues “Hawkesbury-L’Orignal-Alfred area is already classified as having a high level of ambient total suspended particulate emissions.” The writer argues even if the Colacem plant meets or exceeds provincial standards for emissions, it will add to the cumulative emissions in the area, which could have negative health effects.

The report says while Colacem and peer reviewers have found the cement plant would meet provincial regulations, “most of the concerns raised by the public are legitimate and must be taken into consideration in this analysis…no one can deny that the air emissions produced by a cement plant are toxic and this is of great concern to the population of the region.” However, it says Colacem has provided air quality studies as requested, and requesting “large-scale air quality studies different to the guidelines established by the province” would be “not reasonable.”

The report says residents also raised concerns about whether or not the plant will comply with provincial regulations – apparently because of a class-action lawsuit against Colacem for pollution at its plant in Kilmar. The counties report says studies submitted by the company show Colacem’s proposed plant could operate within provincial regulations. “The studies do not guarantee against infractions occurring, but if future infractions do occur, Provincial Ministries have enforcement mechanisms available,” it says.

Another popular concern was about property values. The counties report says while “land value is a concern frequently introduced during the review of planning applications,” property value is not something Champlain Township or Prescott Russell’s councils are required to consider when making a decision.

The report summarizes six studies submitted by Colacem, as well as a peer reviews undertaken by the United Counties of Prescott and Russell. It says in most cases, peer reviewers agreed with the studies submitted by Colacem, but sometimes requested clarifications.