After months of attempting to rally support from citizens, local governments, and agencies, Action Champlain’s effort to have a federal environmental assessment done on a proposed cement plant near L’Orignal was rejected on Wednesday, November 2.

According to Action spokesperson Elaine Demers, federal Minister of the Environment Steven Guilbault rejected the request made by the organization in September for an Impact Assessment on the plant.

Action Champlain, which has consistently attempted to stop Colacem from building the plant beside its quarry on Highway 17 since it was first proposed in 2011, had submitted its 240-page request to Guilbault, containing reasons it believed justified federal intervention. Those reasons included possible negative environmental effects on both sides of the Ontario-Québec boundary, greenhouse gas emissions generated by shipping of supplies and products to and from the federally regulated Port of Montréal, and possible negative effects on traditional lands and practices of First Nations. Action Champlain had also alleged there are 14 federally listed species at risk living on or near the cement plant site.

Local governments and other agencies had been endorsing Action Champlain’s effort to have the Impact Assessment conducted. Just hours before, United Counties of Prescott and Russell (UCPR) council, in its final decision of the current term, voted to support the request for the federal assessment. Before publicly voting to support the request, council went into closed session to discuss legal advice on the matter.

Champlain Township Mayor Normand Riopel declared a conflict of interest and did not participate in the closed session discussions, or the vote held in public session regarding the request. Outgoing Warden and Casselman Mayor Daniel Lafleur did not want to comment on council’s decision because most of the preliminary discussions had been conducted in a closed session.

“It was supported,” was all Lafleur would say.

In 2017, UCPR council approved an Official Plan Amendment required to facilitate the cement plant. In 2020, Action Champlain unsuccessfully appealed that decision to the Ontario Municipal Board, now known as the Ontario Land Tribunal. Demers was pleased with UCPR council’s November 2 decision and saw it was a sign of a more positive relationship with the regional and municipal governments.

“There’s better respect from the municipalities,” Demers said.

The request for a federal Impact Assessment had also been supported by Champlain Township council, Hawkesbury council, La Nation council, Alfred and Plantagenet council, Casselman council, Russell Township council, Grenville village council, and by Eastern Ontario Health Unit Medical Officer of Health, Dr. Paul Roumeliotis.