Dr. Carrie Buchanan
Tim Russert Department of Communication and Theatre Arts
John Carroll University

    Question Everything

Water dispute

The articles in this series appeared in The Ottawa Citizen in 2001 and concerned an environmental hearing taking place in Perth, Ontario, near Ottawa. All the articles were written on a freelance basis but my  copyright does not include the many excellent photographs that accompanied them in the newspaper.

 

The series begins with a summary that occurred at the midpoint of the lengthy hearing, after an adjournment of several months. It then returns to the beginning and follows the first half in chronological order. (This reporter was not available to cover the second half.)

 

 

Stage set for water usage dispute

 

In hearings that start tomorrow, OMYA Inc. will defend its permit to take 1.5 million litres of water per day from the Tay River. It's a case that could have precedent-setting repercussions, writes Carrie Buchanan.

 

Monday, October 8, 2001

Page: C3

Section: City

Byline: Carrie Buchanan

Dateline: PERTH

Source: The Ottawa Citizen

 

PERTH - Into the Perth Civitan building they will

stream at noon tomorrow, about two dozen people

lugging boxes and binders full of documents.

Lawyers, scientific and technical experts, government

officials and a captain of industry will come to

answer their challengers: a retired Mountie, two

former teachers, the head of a Perth environmental

group, an Algonquin Indian chief, a former MP and

MPP, three Bob's Lake cottagers and the Council of

Canadians.

 

All are involved in an appeal by Ontario's

Environmental Review Tribunal of a permit (now in

abeyance) granted in August 2000 to OMYA

(Canada) Inc., a Swiss-owned multinational. OMYA

makes products out of calcium carbonate, which in its

natural form is limestone, marble or chalk. The

products are widely used in products ranging from

paint to drywall.

 

These people represent all of us. The questions at this

hearing are being asked across Canada: How do we

balance the needs of industry and the economy with

those of nature and healthy communities? And how

do we maintain control of our resources, as

once-public goods such as water become

commodities involved in global trade?

 

The permit now under appeal allows OMYA to

remove up to 1.5 million litres of water a day from

the Tay River, a small, struggling river that runs

through this picturesque town of 6,000 about 100

kilometres west of Ottawa. The Tay connects to a

network of 46 lakes whose shores are dotted with

thousands of cottages.

 

In 2004, the permit lets OMYA triple its water-taking

to 4.5 million litres a day provided monitoring and

further studies show no adverse impacts. The amount

is slightly more than the town of Perth used for

drinking water in 2000, according to testimony by

Jim Ronson, president of the Perth Community

Association. The smaller amount, to be used in the

first few years, would just about fill two

Olympic-sized swimming pools.

 

OMYA wants to mix most of this water with

ground-up calcium carbonate to make a slurry, used

in paper-making, which is shipped all over North

America in tanker trucks and rail cars. The slurry is

about 25 per cent water, similar to ketchup but less

dilute than, say, beer or liquid soap, says Olivier

Chatillon, vice-president and general manager of

OMYA (Canada) Inc., a company that has no

president.

 

OMYA now uses about 650,000 litres a day of

groundwater for this purpose, a majority of which

ends up in the product, Mr. Chatillon says. Thus,

most of the water OMYA wants to take will leave the

area in shipments to other parts of Canada and the

U.S.

 

Biologists who testified last summer noted that when

water leaves an ecosystem like this, it can't help

having an impact. However, several studies produced

to date have predicted "no significant impact" on

water levels or fish habitat in the river and the major

lakes that feed it.

 

The argument that OMYA is disrupting the

ecosystem bothers Mr. Chatillon. "Water is a

renewable resource and is constantly replaced by

rainfall. It's part of a complete cycle," he says.

"Water flowing in the Tay River goes into the St.

Lawrence River and (also) leaves the area."

 

To the Council of Canadians, OMYA's shipments

should be classified as a bulk water export, prohibited

under several treaties and accords. But senior water

policy and trade experts have told the hearing that

OMYA's product is not a prohibited export. That's

because it's a "product" rather than "water in its

natural state," said Frank Quinn, a senior federal

water policy analyst. He got substantial agreement

from Stephen de Boer, a senior provincial

government trade analyst, when both men testified in

July.

 

Products, they said, are exempt from the ban on water

exports in Canada's international treaties and

interprovincial accords. They're also exempt from

Ontario law prohibiting water shipments from one

watershed to another. Even bottled water is

considered a product and, provided the containers are

small, they too are exempt.

 

Presiding over the Perth hearing is a former federal

cabinet minister, Pauline Browes, who was a junior

minister of the environment and later minister of

Indian Affairs in the Brian Mulroney governments of

the early 1990s. It's her job to decide whether the

permit should go ahead, perhaps with conditions

attached, or be revoked.

 

Already, Ms. Browes has made legal history by

agreeing to consider, among other issues, the impact

of trade agreements such as the North American Free

Trade Agreement and World Trade Organization

agreements, as well as water exports and the

relevance of Canada's federal-provincial bulk water

accords.

 

"This case is a landmark. It's the first time a

regulatory tribunal at a provincial level has ever

considered Canada's obligations under NAFTA and

the WTO. And the fact that it concerns a water-taking

permit makes it that much more important," says

Steven Shrybman, the lawyer representing the

Council of Canadians at the hearing.

 

"The 20th century was about oil and gas. The 21st

century is about water. It's what many say the wars of

the next 100 years will be fought over. So I think

that's the context," Shrybman adds.

 

If the Council of Canadians is right, the hearing

taking place in this small Ontario town could have

serious repercussions for Canadians' control over

water resources. That's because this permit, if

granted, would set a precedent, says Jamie Dunn,

water campaigner with the Council of Canadians.

 

What's precedent-setting about it? Basically, that so

little information was required before it was granted.

No environmental assessment was done, and the

environment ministry relied largely on studies paid

for by the company, to assess the potential

environmental impacts. One of those studies was

thoroughly criticized by hydrology experts at the

hearing for relying on scanty, out-of-date data on

water flows.

 

Under NAFTA's controversial Chapter 11, Mr. Dunn

argues, a foreign company could claim the same right

in the future, to obtain a water permit without any

environmental assessment. If denied such a permit,

the company could sue, and in a private hearing, win

a cash settlement not just for the amount the company

invested, but also for lost profits it might have

earned.

 

Ontario routinely makes decisions about water

permits without basic information about what is

being taken out of the system already, and what will

be needed in the future, Ontario's Environment

Commissioner Jim Miller told the hearing in July. He

called for a "water budget" to account for such things.

 

There are some mitigating factors: OMYA's permit

did set conditions requiring more studies during the

first three years, before the higher amount can be

taken in 2004. The ministry also consulted with other

federal and provincial departments and agencies. And

in the year since the permit was issued, the company

has produced several more studies. But there have

been many scathing comments about Ontario's

procedures during the hearing, including some from

federal officials.

 

"It seems strange that you would issue a permit

before you had all the information. We normally

issue the permit after the information is gathered,"

said David Ballinger, the senior Parks Canada official

responsible for the Rideau Canal.

 

Indeed, Brent Valere of Fisheries and Oceans Canada

said the federal government, upon hearing about

OMYA's plans, launched a full environmental

assessment because it was felt the device could harm

fish habitats. The federal process requires that the

studies be done by scientists who are not paid by the

company applying for the permit, Mr. Valere noted.

 

The federal environmental assessment was nowhere

near finished when the permit was issued, and is still

underway. The process has produced "volumes" of

material since it began in March 2000, Mr. Valere

said, and a report is expected next week, which will

then be subject to public consultations for 30 days

before it's finalized. The process might continue, Mr.

Valere testified, depending on the outcome of the

public consultations. But if the public comments

don't turn up a significant objection, it could soon be

over.

 

For Mr. Chatillon, the end to all these hearings and

consultations is anxiously awaited. "We have been

very supportive of the process, but after 20 long

months it's time now to put some closure on this

issue." That's how long it has been since the company

first applied for the permit, on Feb. 29, 2000.

 

The appellants, too, are suffering. Some, having used

up vacation time to attend the first three weeks in

June and July, are taking unpaid leave for the

unexpected extra month the hearing is scheduled to

take. Some, such as Carol Dillon, have cottagers

staying in their homes because the cottages aren't

winterized.

 

For Ms. Dillon, the story of this hearing is

multifaceted, involving community tensions over

OMYA's role as a major employer, as well as the

environmental issues at hand. It's a story that's not

isolated to Perth, she notes.

 

"It's happening in local areas across the country. Not

always about water, but we hear from British

Columbia about trees and logging, it's the same sort

of thing. It's big multinational companies, it's small

communities, and it's the pressure that the presence of

a very large company can have on a small community

in a number of ways."

 

The hearing is scheduled daily at the Civitan Club,

6787 County Road 43 in Perth, from noon to 5 p.m.

Tuesday, 9 a.m. to 5 p.m. Wednesday and Thursday,

adjourning at noon on Friday. It is expected to

continue until Nov. 2.


-30-

 

Note: The stories that follow are in chronological order, and all preceded by several months the summary written above. The hearing was adjourned for three months, approximately, because it was so challenging to get all the participants together – the extension was not anticipated when plans were made for the hearing, but the level of public nterest, combined with participation from residents and NGOs, made each presentation and the subsequent questions more lengthy than originally anticipated. What follows is an example of an ongoing series of articles, with which some readers will be familiar as time goes on, while others pick it up partway through. Thus, each includes a short summary that brings newcomers up to speed.

 

OMYA's use of water not export: lawyers


Wednesday, April 4, 2001

Page: C1 / FRONT

Section: City

Byline: Carrie Buchanan

Dateline: PERTH

Source: The Ottawa Citizen

Illustrations: Color Photo: Wayne Hiebert, The Ottawa Citizen / OMYA (Canada) Inc. has been granted a permit to drain millions of litres of water from the Tay River.

 

PERTH -- Water exports and the North American

Free Trade Agreement are outside the scope of an

appeal of a Swiss company's permit to draw millions

of litres of water daily from the Tay River, lawyers

for OMYA (Canada) Inc. and the Ontario Ministry of

the Environment argued yesterday.

 

Lawyers for the company and the ministry were

responding to arguments Monday by eight

individuals and groups who want the controversial

permit revoked. The opponents have listed many

possible negative effects, which they believe weren't

taken into account because there was no

environmental assessment done.

 

OMYA and the environment ministry, which are

defending the permit, concede the eight opponents

have legitimate arguments that should be aired at a

full hearing, about whether the ministry collected

enough information to assess environmental risks

when granting the permit.

 

However, OMYA and ministry lawyers were anxious

to quash discussion of many other issues the

opponents raised, such as water exports and NAFTA

implications, raised Monday by the Council of

Canadians. There are also fears of environmental

damage, and complaints about increased noise and

and truck traffic by area residents and cottagers.

Because the river water is mixed with calcium

carbonate before being shipped, it is not subject to

environmental laws and regulations that prohibit

water exports or removal of large quantities from the

watershed where it originates, said Alan Bryant,

lawyer for OMYA.

 

The water and calcium carbonate, also known as

calcite, form what's known as a slurry, which is then

shipped by truck to customers, including some in the

United States.

 

But water in a slurry is no longer water, it's a product,

the lawyer for OMYA said.

 

The Water Resources Act, under which OMYA's

permit was granted, restricts the term ``water'' to

what's in wells, lakes, streams, rivers and other

largely natural settings, Mr. Bryant noted.

 

``Clearly, that is water in its natural state. It ceases to

be water in its natural state when it is incorporated

into a product, whether it is beer or toothpaste or

calcite in a slurry form.''

 

Once it becomes a product or good it can legally be

shipped anywhere, Mr. Bryant said. He also accused

the opponents of trying to turn the environmental

appeal into a full environmental assessment, which in

his opinion is not warranted under the current laws

and regulations governing the OMYA process.

 

Mr. Bryant is a former chairman of the

Environmental Appeal Board, the precursor to the

Environmental Review Tribunal, which is hearing the

current appeal.

 

The new permit allowing OMYA to take vast

amounts of water from the river, granted last August,

would allow OMYA to undergo a huge expansion of

its operations, which have until now relied on

groundwater. The expanded operations have been in

abeyance pending the outcome of the appeal, Mr.

Bryant said. 

-30-

Tay water deal `premature'

Not enough known about watershed to give OMYA licence to remove water, federal official says

Tuesday, June 26, 2001

Page: D1 / FRONT

Section: City

Byline: Carrie Buchanan

Dateline: PERTH

Source: The Ottawa Citizen

 

PERTH -- Federal officials believed Ontario's

environment ministry was ``premature'' in granting a

permit to OMYA (Canada) Ltd. last summer, a move

that would allow the company to take more than 1.5

million litres of water -- daily -- from the Tay River,

a senior Parks Canada official told an environmental

hearing yesterday.

 

The permit was granted without conducting a full

range of environmental impact studies, said David

Ballinger, the senior Parks Canada official

responsible for the Rideau Canal. He was testifying

on the first day of an appeal hearing, at which eight

individuals and organizations are challenging the

permit before the Ontario Environmental Review

Tribunal.

 

Yesterday's arguments focused mainly on the paucity

of environmental information gathered before the

permit was granted.

 

``It seems strange that you would issue a permit

before you had all the information. We normally

issue the permit after the information is gathered,''

said Mr. Ballinger, whose jurisdiction includes parts

of the Tay River and numerous lakes that flow into it.

 

The Tay River, which runs through Perth, and its

attached lakes and tributaries in the Lanark Highlands

and Rideau Lakes, are connected to the Rideau

Canal. Water from the 865-square-kilometre Tay

watershed is used regularly by Parks Canada through

a network of dams and reservoirs to maintain water

levels in the canal, Mr. Ballinger explained.

 

The OMYA plant and calcite mine near Tatlock are

located in a part of the watershed under the

jurisdiction of Ontario's Ministry of the Environment.

Parks Canada was consulted, but did not have a final

say on the permit granted last August.

 

The 10-year permit would allow OMYA to triple the

amount of water it takes to 4.5 million litres a day

starting in 2004, depending on the results of

monitoring and environmental studies at the 1.5

million-litre a-day level. So far, OMYA's permit is in

abeyance pending the outcome of the appeal.

A coalition of cottagers, full-time residents and the

Council of Canadians is challenging the permit on

several grounds. The appellants say the ministry

failed to collect information about the possible

environmental impacts of removing so much water

from the watershed. And the Council of Canadians

objects to the company's plan to ship most of the

water out of the watershed. It argues that there could

be implications under the North American Free Trade

Agreement.

 

OMYA (Canada) Inc. operates a quarry that extracts

and processes calcium carbonate, mixing it with

water to form a slurry. The product is shipped all

over North America to be used in a variety of

products, from toothpaste to drywall.

 

The hearing opened yesterday with Brian Kaye, the

environment ministry official responsible for granting

the OMYA permit. He said the 10-year permit

contains ``numerous terms and conditions'' and has

two distinct stages. Only if the monitoring and

studies required in the first three years show no ill

effects will the company be allowed to take larger

amounts from the river, Mr. Kaye said. And the

company must cease taking water entirely if the flow

drops below a certain danger level.

 

Mr. Kaye's reassurances didn't satisfy cottager Ann

German, 83, who has been spending her summers on

Bob's Lake since the 1920s.

 

It was then that she was first brought to the family

cottage as a baby, in a laundry hamper.

 

``Our cottage was the seventh on the lake,'' Ms.

German told vice-chairwoman Pauline Browes of the

Environmental Review Tribunal, who is conducting

the hearing.

 

Ms. German recalled severe dry spells in the 1930s,

1950s and most recently in 1999, when water levels

dropped so low parts of the lake and river went dry.

In some spots, fish couldn't spawn, frogs and other

aquatic life died or disappeared and cottagers

extended their water intake pipes far out into the lake,

she said.

 

Recently, water levels have been going down again,

Ms. German said, and she doesn't believe it's safe to

remove more from the watershed. ``Millions of

gallons a day, 365 days a year, is more than the upper

levels of the Tay can stand,'' she warned.

 

``Let's find out if enough water is coming into the

basin to refill it -- before we empty it.''

 

David Taylor, chairman of the Tay River Watershed

Plan, said his organization has spent several years

drawing up a comprehensive study of the

95-kilometre Tay River and its tributaries.

But the watershed group wasn't notified or consulted

about the OMYA permit, though it has a group of

technical experts working on exactly the type of

studies needed to assess its impact.

 

Those studies weren't finished last summer when the

permit was granted, Mr. Taylor noted, and they still

aren't finished.

Tay water permit means jobs: supporters 

Hundreds turn out to back OMYA

Wednesday, June 27, 2001

Page: F3

Section: City

Byline: Carrie Buchanan

Source: The Ottawa Citizen

 

About 400 people packed the Perth Lions Hall last

night to tell Ontario's Environmental Review

Tribunal they want OMYA (Canada) Inc. to expand

and bring more jobs to their community.

 

``We're very lucky to have such a large, worldwide,

environmentally friendly company investing in our

community,'' said Dan Roberts, manager of Glen Tay

Transportation, whose firm employs 60 and has

worked with OMYA for 15 years.

 

``I know if they do not receive this permit, there will

be no expansion and our community will suffer from

this.''

 

There was loud applause for Mr. Roberts and every

other speaker who took the microphone in support of

the Swiss-based calcite mining and processing

company. The few who spoke out against the

company's expansion faced stony silence.

 

Last night was the public's opportunity to speak out,

in favour or against the permit, before

vice-chairwoman Pauline Browes of the

Environmental Review Tribunal, who is conducting

an 11-day hearing to review the permit. The vast

majority last night wanted to see OMYA get on with

the job.

 

There were also a few detractors. Cottagers like

Louise McDiarmid, who owns a cottage near the

Tatlock mine, sent an eloquent statement.

 

``It was our dream to have a cottage,'' she wrote. But

``it is hard to convince myself this is my bit of

wilderness when there are trucks going by every 15

minutes. Even harder with the blasting at the mine.''

Biologists not sold on OMYA plan

`One cannot remove volumes of water ... and not expect negative effects'

Thursday, June 28, 2001

Page: B1 / FRONT

Section: City

Byline: Carrie Buchanan

Dateline: PERTH

Source: The Ottawa Citizen

 

CORRECTION: (From the Ottawa Citizen, June 30, 2001) An article which appeared on B1 in Thursday's edition should have quoted Cameron MacLeod of Perth saying that OMYA (Canada) Inc.'s permit to remove water from the Tay River could decrease water levels enough to have a significant effect on spawning beds for lake trout. *****

 

PERTH -- It's not possible for OMYA (Canada) Inc.

of Perth to remove more than a million litres of water

a day from the Tay River without harming the

surrounding ecosystem, an expert on the river's

ecology told an environmental appeal hearing

yesterday.

 

The Swiss-based company has a permit, which is in

abeyance while the appeal is heard, to use up to 1.5

million litres daily until 2004, when it can triple that

to 4.5 million litres daily. The water is mixed with

calcium carbonate to form a slurry used in many

products, from paint to toothpaste. It is shipped

throughout North America.

 

The permit, if approved, would allow the company to

expand its operations in Perth and nearby Tatlock.

But despite several studies predicting no ill effects,

including one finished this month by the federal

Department of Fisheries and Oceans, some biologists

are unconvinced.

 

``One cannot remove volumes of fresh and clean

water from the mid or upper parts of a watershed and

not expect negative effects upon the natural

ecological functions downstream,'' Ted Mosquin told

the Environmental Review Tribunal yesterday.

 

The night before, at a public meeting, retired fisheries

biologist Cameron McLeod took the same view,

saying the OMYA expansion would decrease water

levels enough to wipe out spawning beds for lake

trout on Bob's and Crow Lakes in the Tay watershed.

 

Mr. Mosquin, who has a PhD from the University of

California, has been a research scientist,

environmental consultant, author and editor of Nature

Canada and the Canadian Field-Naturalist magazines.

He has written or co-authored several books and

many scientific and popular articles.

 

``Removing clean water from a system and exporting

it right out of the system certainly will be a direct

cause of an increase in pollution levels downstream,

and an incremental negative impact on quite a few

ecological functions,'' Mr. Mosquin added.

 

Part of the problem, Mr. Mosquin said, is that

Ontario's Ministry of the Environment did not follow

an ``ecosystem approach'' to evaluate the permit, as

required by its own Statement of Environmental

Values. The statement is supposed to apply to all the

ministry's work.

 

An ``ecosystem approach'' is supposed to consider

the ``air, land, water and living organisms, including

humans and the interactions among them.''

 

But even the ministry director who approved the

permit, Brian Kaye, admitted in a written statement

to the hearing that the ecosystem approach has

proved too challenging to put into effect ``at the

practical, working level.'' So far, Mr. Kaye admitted,

it's just ``conceptual.''

 

In fact, there have been significant problems putting

the ``ecosystem approach'' into practice at every level

of government, said Nancy Doubleday, assistant

director of Carleton University's Department of

Geography and Environmental Studies, who also

testified yesterday. Ms. Doubleday is an expert on the

methods used to assess environmental impacts. She

has a PhD in biological sciences as well as degrees in

law and environmental studies.

 

Yesterday was the third day of the appeal hearing,

which is being conducted by the tribunal's

vice-chairwoman, Pauline Browes, in Perth. The

appellants, who include cottagers, full-time residents

and the Council of Canadians, are making their cases

this week. OMYA and the Ontario Ministry of the

Environment will present theirs next week.

 

The hearing continues today at the Lanark County

council chambers, 99 Sunset Blvd., in Perth.

 

Water permits criticized by expert

Firm seeking right to tap 1.5M litres daily

Friday, June 29, 2001

Page: F3

Section: City

Byline: Carrie Buchanan

Dateline: PERTH

Source: The Ottawa Citizen

 

PERTH -- Ontario's Environment ministry is issuing

permits to remove large amounts of water from the

province's rivers without vital information such as

how much is already being used, Environment

Commissioner Gord Miller told a hearing yesterday.

Mr. Miller, who is appointed by the Ontario

legislature, studied ministry procedures for issuing

water-taking permits and issued a damning report in

February. He was summoned to appear yesterday at a

hearing about a permit issued to OMYA (Canada)

Inc. in the Perth area.

 

While Mr. Miller admitted he had not studied the

OMYA permit in detail, he said lack of information

and failure to follow the ``ecosystem approach'' that

looks at all aspects of the surrounding environment,

threatens Ontario's water resources.

 

``It's our position that the water regulatory structure

is inadequate to meet the needs that are placed upon

it,'' Mr. Miller said. Furthermore, he said guidelines

for the staff who examine permit applications vary in

different parts of the province.

 

``The permit system doesn't have a mechanism to

summarize and tabulate the total number of water

takings for a watershed,'' Mr. Miller told

vice-chairwoman Pauline Browes of the

Environmental Review Tribunal. Staff don't know

how much water there is in a watershed, who's

already using it, and what other needs for it there

might be.

 

OMYA got a permit last August, now in abeyance, to

draw up to 1.5 million litres daily from the Tay River

in the Perth area until 2004. For the next seven years,

the permit allows triple that, or 4.5 million litres

daily, if monitoring shows no ill effects. Studies done

by OMYA, the environment ministry and the federal

fisheries department have predicted no serious

environmental harm from this.

 

OMYA owns a nearby quarry and processing plant

where calcium carbonate is mined, crushed and

mixed with water to form a slurry shipped throughout

North America. The substance is used in many

products, from paint to toothpaste.

 

OMYA's environmental record in Vermont was to be

explained to the hearing Wednesday by a municipal

politician from the Rutland area. But a disappointed

Michael Fannin was turned away after the company's

lawyer argued that OMYA (Canada) Inc. is under

separate management and problems with the

Vermont company were irrelevant.

Tay plan `opens floodgates'

Environmentalist says others will want same rights to water

Wednesday, July 4, 2001

Page: C4

Section: Business

Byline: Carrie Buchanan

Dateline: PERTH

Source: The Ottawa Citizen

 

PERTH -- Ontario is setting itself up for trade

challenges by issuing a permit to OMYA (Canada)

Inc. to draw millions of litres of water daily from the

Tay River and ship it all over North America, an

environmental lawyer told an appeal hearing

yesterday.

 

The first problem is that Ontario has not done a

``water budget'' that examines who is already using

water in the Tay watershed, and whether the system

can withstand the loss of so much water, said

Christine Elwell of the Sierra Club of Canada, an

expert on environmental and trade law.

 

The second major problem, she said, is the ``policy

gap'' that exempts OMYA from restrictions on bulk

water exports because the water is a product. Third,

this lack of regard for environmental factors could

lead to future challenges under the North American

Free Trade Agreement by foreign investors

demanding similar rights to Canadian water.

Ontario permit regulations contain ``a gaping

loophole ... that will just open up the floodgates of

precedent for other investors to come here and take

similar amounts,'' Ms. Elwell said. Without a clear

environmental rationale, she said, Ontario will not

have a framework to justify rejecting future permits.

 

Ms. Elwell's testimony began the second week of an

expected three-week hearing into OMYA's permit to

draw as much as 1.5 million litres a day until 2004,

and 4.5 million a day thereafter, from the Tay. The

Swiss-owned company mines calcium carbonate

from a quarry about 40 kilometres north of Perth,

crushes it at a processing plant just outside of town,

then mixes it with water in a slurry used in paper and

a wide assortment of products.

 

No matter how much water it contains, anything

defined as a product  -- including most bottled water

-- is exempt from proposed federal legislation

prohibiting exports of large volumes of water, said

Frank Quinn, a senior Environment Canada official

who testified on Friday.

 

Federal officials didn't think it important to include

water products in the ban because ``if you add up all

the bottled water that Canada exports, and all the

(water in) beer, it doesn't amount to much,'' Mr.

Quinn said. ``It would fit into one tanker truck.'' 

Federal officials review Tay 

River permit Biologists measure impact to fish in watershed

 

Monday, July 9, 2001

Page: C1 / FRONT

Section: City

Byline: Carrie Buchanan

Dateline: PERTH

Source: The Ottawa Citizen

 

PERTH -- Worry and uncertainty prevail on all sides

as an environment tribunal enters its third week of

hearings into OMYA (Canada) Inc.'s permit to take

millions of litres of water a day from the Tay River.

Company officials have sat nervously through

hearings by the Ontario Environmental Review

Tribunal.

 

The company now wonders if a $500-million

expansion it has undertaken at its Perth plant will go

from asset to liability.

OMYA needs large quantities of river water to mix

with calcium carbonate, mined in nearby Tatlock.

The mixture then becomes a slurry and is exported

throughout North America for use in a wide array of

products, from paper to toothpaste.

 

Until now, the company has used groundwater but it

can't take more from that source.

 

On the other side of the issue, the eight appellants -- a

coalition of cottagers, permanent residents and the

Council of Canadians -- argue that OMYA will

remove much of the water it collects from the

watershed, which could result in environmental

damage. The ministry didn't conduct enough studies,

they argue, and those that were done didn't use an

``ecosystem approach,'' as regulations require.

 

On top of ecological uncertainty, the Council of

Canadians argues the permit is a precedent-setting

case under the North American Free Trade

Agreement. By allowing OMYA to export such large

quantities of water, the council argues, Canada could

be forced to allow similar rights to other international

investors in future under NAFTA's controversial

Chapter 11.

 

In the middle is Brian Kaye, the Ontario official

responsible for issuing the permit, who has watched

expert after expert pick apart his work. Sometime this

week, Mr. Kaye is expected to testify.

 

But no matter what this tribunal decides, this is not

the last major hurdle for OMYA. It came as an

obvious surprise to hearing chairwoman Pauline

Browes late last week to learn the federal government

is conducting an environmental assessment into the

project. Her hearing concerns a provincial permit,

issued by the Ontario Ministry of the Environment

last August, which allows OMYA to remove up to

1.5 million litres a day from the Tay River. That

amount will increase to 4.5 million a day in 2004, if

no adverse effects are seen during the first stage.

Late Thursday, federal fisheries biologist Brent

Valere told the hearing that he is overseeing a federal

process that has been ongoing for the last 16 months

and won't be finished for several more. The

Department of Fisheries and Oceans started the

process because OMYA's water-taking involves a

water-pumping device in the Tay River that fisheries

experts have determined will create a ``harmful

alteration, disruption or destruction of fish habitat.''

 

The DFO is examining the potential impact on the

entire watershed, he explained, because the pump

could affect water levels and fish habitat. One of the

federal studies, completed by independent experts

hired by DFO in June, concluded that impact will be

negligible, Mr. Valere testified. But other studies

haven't been completed yet.

 

The federal environmental assessment also requires

input from other departments, such as Environment

Canada, Natural Resources, and Parks Canada. It's

also possible, he added, that this ``screening'' level

study could be followed by the appointment of a

panel to study the issue in more depth -- a process

that could take years. But that will happen only if the

current round of studies uncovers significant

potential damage.

 

Appellant Carol Dillon urged Ms. Browes to delay

any decision on the provincial permit until the federal

review is complete. But OMYA lawyer Alan Bryant

urged Ms. Browes to continue the hearing and make

a decision promptly.

 

OMYA `slurry' exports legal, trade experts say

Wednesday, July 11, 2001

Page: D3

Section: City

Byline: Carrie Buchanan

Dateline: PERTH

Source: The Ottawa Citizen

 

PERTH -- International agreements do not prevent

Ontario from allowing OMYA (Canada) Inc. to take

millions of litres of water from the Tay River every

day, even if that water is exported, two senior

provincial officials have told an environmental

appeal hearing.

 

David de Launay, the Ontario official charged with

administering the Great Lakes Charter and Stephen

de Boer, a lawyer for the province with expertise on

NAFTA and the World Trade Organization

Agreement, both denied arguments by the Council of

Canadians that the permit could set Canada up for

future trade challenges.

 

OMYA has been issued a permit which is now in

abeyance pending the outcome of this appeal. The

permit allows the company to remove up to 1.5

million litres a day from the Tay until 2004. After

that, the amount would increase to 4.5 million litres a

day. Much of that water would be shipped out of the

watershed in rail cars and tanker trucks, mixed in a

slurry with calcium carbonate.

 

The slurry is used products like paper and drywall,

and is shipped across North America.

 

A coalition of cottagers, permanent residents and the

Council of Canadians prompted the appeal to the

Environmental Review Tribunal.

 

An environmental lawyer who appeared for the

Council of Canadian testified last week that Canada

may not be able to deny future investors similar

permits under NAFTA.

 

But the water OMYA plans to use isn't considered a

water export, said Mr. de Boer.

 

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