Your readers have over the years closely followed a story sometimes referred to as “that thing with the asphalt plant” but which is really a story about water. The quantity, quality, and protection of water in Jessup’s Falls in particular but more generally in all of Prescott-Russell. I’m well-placed to speak on the subject since I’m one of the residents who appealed the Official Plan and who appeared before the Ontario Municipal Board (OMB) on October 4th.
It’s not OK to steal your neighbour’s water or to pollute it. That’s a no-brainer, especially in rural areas. But to avoid harming the water we share with our neighbours and community, we need to know where and how it flows and what the contamination risks are. And that’s the whole point for me. That’s why I’ve been spending time and effort (and money!) for more than 5 years now: to strengthen water protection in the Prescott-Russell Official Plan and to more clearly identify areas at risk of contamination.
In his excellent summary before the OMB, Mr. Louis Prévost, Director of Urbanism and Forestry at the United Counties, underlined the importance of what the other appellants and I have accomplished during these long years and over the hard months of negotiation this summer. I want to congratulate all the parties, both appellants and opposing parties, for having arrived at a negotiated settlement based on facts and science. The settlement spared us weeks of hearings with the associated costs to us and to the public purse of lawyers, experts, etc.
Briefly, the OMB accepted to (1) recognize the presence at Jessup’s Falls of karst (a limestone formation through which water, polluted or not, travels very fast), (2) acknowledge that the presence of karst represents a risk of groundwater contamination, (3) document the presence of a groundwater recharge area at Jessup’s Falls, and (4) modify the Official Plan to better manage development in karstic areas. That may seem vague but it’s the first time that the risk of groundwater contamination has been clearly linked to the presence of karst in Ontario.
This painful process has reminded me that “the Government” is me. Is each and everyone one of us. And that citizens are at least as well-informed about local affairs as any civil servant or elected official. But it takes time and engagement to make our Government work for us. I also came to understand that everyone of us is responsible for protecting our precious, easily contaminated water.
What will end up happening at Jessup’s Falls? Politics being what it is, who knows? But I hope that I have helped to make development in the area easier to do in a rational and sustainable way that respects our community and our environment.
End of a long saga