On Friday, September 1, about 100 people filed into the council chambers of the United Counties of Prescott-Russell for the OMB's pre-hearing for the proposed cement plant in L'Orignal. (Photo: Francis Tessier-Burns).

A date set, a warning heeded: the OMB’s pre-hearing for proposed cement plant

The dispute surrounding the proposed Colacem cement plant in L’Orignal will loom over the region for at least another year.

At the Ontario Municipal Board’s pre-hearing on Friday, Richard Makuch, the member of the OMB presiding over the cases, announced the official hearing was scheduled for four to five weeks beginning on September 4, 2018. 

The parties involved agreed to hear both appeals at once. The first, Colacem Canada Inc. is appealing the Township of Champlain’s refusal of a zoning change; the second, Action Champlain, a citizens group opposing the cement plant, is appealing the United Counties of Prescott-Russell’s amendment to its Official Plan allowing for the plant’s construction on Highway 17.

About 75 people crammed into the UCPR’s council chambers, most of which were left to stand.

Having their voices heard

Once Makuch opened the floor, 23 people registered as participants to the case—in addition to the Township of Champlain. Participants are individuals or groups that register to attend the hearing and may submit statements to the OMB.  

“I’m concerned about the survival of my business and the food safety of my products,” said Christine Bonneau-O’Neill, when asked why she registered as a participant.

As the owner of L’Orignal Packing, she said she was scared when she first heard of the proposed cement plant. Since then, she’s spoken to both Action Champlain and Colacem; still, she doesn’t stand staunchly for or against the plant.

In becoming a participant, she intends to submit a plan of the business’s health requirements and will be looking to get a written guarantee from Colacem that if the plant is built that it wouldn’t make it harder for the business to stay within those requirements.

“It’s not just the present moment,” said Bonneau-O’Neill, “the repercussions will be felt 10, 15, 20 years later.”

Jim Walsh registered as a participant in support of the cement plant. He sees it as a solution to the “stagnation of the population.”

“The future of the community is basically at stake in the sense that we need tax revenues to support our healthcare, our schools, our libraries, our municipal infrastructure,” says Walsh.

Christine Bonneau-O’Neill (left) was one of nearly 25 people that registered as participants to the case. (Photo: Francis Tessier-Burns).

Asked if he thought a cement plant would attract people to the area, he said the plant would have the positive “side effects” of creating a “secondary industry” that would service the trucks, but didn’t say if that would actually bring more people to the area.

He added that those claiming environmental justification against the cement plant were “pseudo-environmentalists.”

“I worry about my health too, but I have to look at the broader picture, that’s part of my support of this.”

He, too, intends to send a letter to the board.

‘No opportunity’ for compromise

The next steps for counsel of the various parties, including the counties, Colacem and Action Champlain, is to settle on the procedural order. That means determining which issues will be brought up during the hearing, which witnesses will be called and even trying to settle certain issues before the hearing.

“I don’t want to bring forth witnesses if there are no issues,” said Michael Bowman, representing Colacem, before mentioning the company had “retained experts” for things from planing and acoustics to emissions and traffic.

“That gives you a flavour of the experts that have commented on this,” said Bowman.

“Mediation, I know is something everybody wants to do,” he added. While he stood firmly saying Colacem will no back down, he said they were open to “opportunities to narrow some of the issues.” 

Gabriel Poliquin, representing Action Champlain, echoed that his client will not be going anywhere either.

“It’s premature to talk about mediation at this point,” said Poliquin. “I don’t think a compromise is possible at this point.”

All parties agreed to work towards finalizing the procedural order by September 30 and submit it to the board.

Following the meeting, The Review asked Poliquin about the Township of Champlain’s decision to register as a participant and not a party.

“It wasn’t a surprise necessarily,” said Poliquin. “When it comes to the arguments Action Champlain will make, it has no impact.”

In not registering as a party, the majority of the financial burden falls on Action Champlain in the appeal case.

“That’s the case since the beginning,” added Poliquin. “We’ll continue in the same direction.”

A word of warning

The meeting ended with Serge “Otsi” Simon warning the representatives of Colacem of a bigger battle than they may have expected.

“When Colacem wants to exploit this type of industry in the area, the impact on my community, which is down river, could be significant,” said Simon, the Grand Chief of the Mohawk Council of Kanesatake. “That’s why I’m here today, you did not take the time to even consider what’s going to happen downstream.”

He mentioned his previous meeting with UCPR in May where he suggested the counties look into attracting green energy companies rather than a cement plant. He added that he’s still willing to share information for these types of companies.

“We want to help our neighbours, we don’t want to hurt their economies,” he said.

Before the hearing, Simon said he’ll be scheduling meetings with Minister Catherine McKenna, the federal Minister of Environment and Climate Change.

“If I have to go all the way to Prime Minister Trudeau then I will, but this fight isn’t going to be only local, I’m warning you right now,” said Simon. “This is going to go much higher than you expected.”

With that, the room broke into applause.