The mayors of the United Counties of Prescott and Russell have voted in favour, again, of an official plan amendment requested by Colacem Canada. The company has plans for a cement plant on Highway 17 outside L’Orignal, and it needs the amendment to move forward.
The council initially voted the same way in late 2016, but had to hold another vote and public meeting because of a procedural mistake. On Wednesday, June 14, Louis Prevost, Director of Planning and Forestry at the UCPR, made a brief presentation. He said he has not changed his opinion since writing a report recommending council approve both the official plan amendment and a zoning change requested by Colacem (which Champlain Township rejected).
As Prevost spoke, some of the audience members in the packed council chambers in L’Orignal booed and shouted “shame!”
In response, UCPR Warden and Champlain Township Mayor Gary Barton warned the audience to be respectful of counties employees and the council.
“This is not an easy decision for anyone,” he said.
Prevost said his job is to make sure what is proposed by Colacem is within provincial guidelines.
“Our role is fairly limited,” he said.
Ultimately, Mayors Gary Barton, Jeanne Charlebois, and Robert Kirby voted against Colacem’s requested change, and every other member of council voted in favour. Because recorded votes at the United Counties are weighted based on population, Colacem’s requested amendment was approved 19-7.
Before he voted, Barton said he found himself in a “unique and difficult position.” He said he has been “swamped” with emails about the cement plant.
“In 14 years of sitting on county council, I don’t think we’ve ever had this many people attend a meeting,” Barton said.
While noting everyone has a right to an opinion, he said “no one has the right to be rude or threatening. And let me tell you, some people in this community are rude and threatening.” Barton noted representatives of both Colacem and Action Champlain, a citizen’s group which opposes Colacem’s project, have been respectful.
Hawkesbury Mayor Jeanne Charlebois said people who live and own property near Colacem’s proposed project should have a “big say” in what happens.
“They were there first,” she said. “I cannot vote for something where people were there first, they made their life there, they’ve invested in our county, and today they’re saying, we don’t want this type of development in our environment.” She also said that there is already a lot of truck traffic moving through Hawkesbury, and the plant proposed by Colacem would add more.
Francois St-Amour, mayor of The Nation, also mentioned he had recieved many emails – “some were respectful, some less,” he said. He said some arguments he has heard against Colacem’s proposal are flawed – for example, he said one person who wrote him incorrectly calculated how much truck traffic the plant is expected to generate.
The issue at hand is zoning regulations, not pollution, St-Amour said.
“This morning, when I came here with my vehicle, I caused pollution,” he said. He said Colacem will ultimately have to meet provincial environmental regulations.
Similarly, Clarence-Rockland Mayor Guy Desjardins said some of the arguments made by opponents of the cement plant are unfair – including the argument that the plant will contaminate water.
“The water that will come out of the plant will be cleaner than the water going in,” said Desjardins. He said he has seen photos of agricultural operations near cement plants that are “not affected at all,” and said 99 per cent of the emissions from the plant would be materials that are “already in the air.” (In October, 2016, The Review spoke with experts about emissions from cement plants. The story is here.)
Mayors Pierre Leroux, of Russell, and Fernand Dicaire, of Alfred-Plantagenet, did not speak on the issue at the meeting. Casselman Mayor Conrad Lamadeleine did not explain his reasons for voting in favour of the amendment, but he mentioned he too has recieved some abusive emails – including one calling the members of council a “gang of imbeciles” – which he strongly disapproved of.
It was Charlebois who got the last word before the vote. “If an industry like this came to your municipality…would you accept? Do you think that your people would accept such a development? Myself I say no,” she said.
After the meeting, Dicaire said he voted in favour of the amendment because he is satisfied Colacem will meet provincial regulations.
“Colacem is engaging itself in meeting the criteria set by the province of Ontario,” he said. “How can we say that they’re not going to meet these guidelines? I couldn’t see an argument that said they are not going to be meeting these targets.” He added that “exponential” progress has been made lately in controlling pollution, and “all we’re saying is it’s good practice to have industrial in that area.”
The issue isn’t over yet, said Barton.
“Colacem is already appealing our township decision. We’re going down the road, that’s the way I look at it, and from day one I said that’s where we’re going to be anyway. In the end, probably the Ontario Municipal Board is making the decision, not us.”
A pre-hearing is set for September for Colacem’s appeal of Champlain Township’s decision not to approve a zoning change required for the plant to go ahead.