Champlain Township will make a one-time $50,000 donation to Action Champlain, the citizens group fighting a proposed cement plant in the township. The 5-3 decision was taken at a special council meeting held at 9 a.m. on March 17.

The group had asked for up to $200,000 at Champlain Township’s regular council meeting on February 13. Council had said it would decide at its March meeting, but at that March 13 meeting, the decision was deferred to a special meeting because, according to Champlain Township Mayor Gary Barton, it was an important decision and he wanted all councillors to be present.

Barton opened the March 17 discussion on Action Champlain’s request by acknowledging information supplied to council by Michael Santella on behalf of Action Champlain, saying that the information had been provided to every councillor.

Barton acknowledged that council had spent $7,000 related to the proposed cement plant in 2017 and had budgeted $15,000 in 2018.

“But I don’t think that is enough. I suspect we will be spending more than that,” said Barton. Colacem, which applied for a zoning amendment in order to be able to build a cement plant near L’Orignal, was turned down by Champlain Township. Colacem is appealing that decision before the Ontario Municipal Board (OMB).

But the United Counties voted in favour of the amendment; Action Champlain is appealing that decision before the Ontario Municipal Board. Both cases will be heard as part of one hearing; that was decided at a pre-hearing last year, when both parties agreed to a single hearing.

The OMB hearing for both of these appeals begins on September 4, 2018 and may take four to five weeks.

Barton also told the standing-room-only crowd in Champlain Township council chambers on Saturday morning that the township had removed the cement plant example from its official plan, set to be approved by council next month.

“We have already received a letter of objection from Colacem and are expecting other objections,” Barton said.

If Champlain Township were to provide a $200,000 amount to Action Champlain, it would represent a four per cent increase for taxpayers, Barton said.

“We receive requests for funding on an ongoing basis. Councillors will have to make their own decisions. But just to make everyone mindful of the challenges we have, we are currently facing a $10-million deficit in infrastructure work that needs to be done and quite frankly, I don’t see how we will ever catch up. The problem is when we make an application to the province for x-number of dollars, there are 445 municipalities and they are all looking for money.”

“But we are not alone in this. There are three quarters of municipalities in this situation. We have citizens in L’Orignal who want a new hall, we just bought a rescue van for Vankleek Hill at a cost of $300,000 and we have a quote on another rescue van for $240,000,” Barton said.

“This is the business of council and that is what we deal with on an ongoing basis. I just wanted you to be aware,” Barton said.

Barton opened the floor to councillors.

L’Orignal ward councillor Jacques Lacelle reminded council that the township was paying about 12 per cent of whatever costs were incurred by the counties in its defense of the Action Champlain appeal of the counties decision.

L’Orignal ward councillor Marc Séguin was against the idea of giving financial aid to Action Champlain, saying, “As I recall when we took the vote, we would be a participant in the OMB hearing and we would not pay for anything more. This year, we have a nine per cent increase in taxes. This would add another four per cent, making it 13 per cent.” In his last four years on council, Séguin said he had seen six and seven per cent increases and said that it affected retired people and those on fixed incomes.

“It adds up,” he said.

Longueuil councillor Helen MacLeod stepped in to the debate with an impassioned plea and request for compromise.

“I feel we voted against the zoning yet we are not defending it at the OMB. Action Champlain is defending Champlain Township here. I am not convinced that there will be no air pollution because of this, and as I drive along Highway 17 near L’Orignal and I see the communications tower  . . . I am not sure how high that is, but I think of the chimney, or stack and I think it will mar the landscape. You’ll be able to see it for miles around. On a personal level, I think about the long-term health effects. I have two younger-generation family members here and I think about their future. I know that this is an unusual request, and that there are many issues. But we seem to be able to find funds for repairs for the community centre, for fire trucks and for snow plows,” MacLeod said. She suggested offering an amount of $50,000 to Action Champlain.

“I know they asked for $200,000, but I know this council will never go for that, so I am proposing $50,000,” MacLeod said, adding, “My concern is health problems.”

Vankleek Hill councillor Paul Emile Duval immediately spoke up and said he agreed with the motion. L’Orignal ward councillor Jacques Lacelle seconded the motion.

MacLeod’s verbal motion included mentioning matching Action Champlain’s expenses up to $50,000.

West Hawkesbury ward councillor Gerry Miner expressed issues concerning Action Champlain’s budget. “There are some who may have a problem with control as it relates to this,” Miner said.

“We said we had to listen to our population,” said Miner, but he pointed out that there are 7,118 voters in Champlain Township and said that Action Champlain claims to have 1,800 members.

“We have to listen to electors, to each elector and have to take our responsibility to represent the majority. I am going to vote against it,” Miner said.

West Hawkesbury ward councillor Pierre Perreault was also against giving financial help to Action Champlain.

“If we give to this, we have to give to the guy who is fighting clear-cutting. Is he going to ask us for support? Because the forests can clean the pollution,” Perreault said.

Vankleek Hill ward councillor Troy Carkner wanted to know if its financial support would make the township responsible in any way for legal costs or other cost over-runs incurred by Action Champlain. Champlain Township CAO Paul Knudsen said she had not explored the issue, but said that if the amount was a discretionary decision of council, she did not feel it would make them responsible for any spending done by Action Champlain.

“I wouldn’t think so, but I would have to verify this,” Knudsen said.

Barton advocated for clarity and for declaring a set amount to support the group.

“If you put that word ‘matching’ in there, it leaves things open so they can come back. I mean, they are free to come back and ask, but we need to make this very clear,” Barton said.

Séguin argued that making a $50,000 contribution would open the door to other associations making requests.

“Where is that going to stop?” he asked.

“We can cross that road when we get there,” Duval replied.

In the end, the motion specified a $50,000 donation to be made to the not-for-profit Action Champlain group.

In a recorded vote, Paul Emile Duval, Helen MacLeod, Troy Carkner, Jacques Lacelle and the mayor voted in favour of the donation, while Gerry Miner, Marc Séguin and Pierre Perreault voted against the motion.

Longueuil ward councillor Normand Riopel had excused himself from the council table at the beginning of the discussion, declaring a conflict of interest.

After the meeting, Action Champlain spokesperson Charles Despins said that although the help is appreciated, they were hoping for more. The group is planning an April 12 public meeting and will be going to its members to raise more money.

“We need to be able to commit resources to present a proper case at the OMB,” Despins said.

The April 12 meeting will also be the group’s annual general meeting and will include an update for members, including the news of the $50,000 decision made at this meeting.

“We will ask our members if this is a fair offer,” said André Chabot, also a member of Action Champlain, arguing that, in essence, the fight is not that of Action Champlain, but for all of Champlain Township.