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Another Site 41?

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Issue: 65 Section: Environment Geography: Ontario Cayuga Topics: land claims, solid waste

October 6, 2009

Another Site 41?

Landfill in southern Ontario starts legal battle

by Geordie Gwalgen Dent

2008 blockade at Edwards site. Photo: Jim Windle

TORONTO—After years of blockades and campaigning, another battle to protect wetlands and water in southern Ontario is going to court.

Cayuga is a small community on Six Nations territory south of Hamilton. For five years, protesters, First Nations and Cayuga residents have been trying to stop the development of a landfill by SF Partnership Chartered Accountants and Haldimand Norfolk Sanitary Landfill Inc. On October 2, preliminary hearings to stop the site's development occurred.

“There have been blockades to stop trucks coming in twice,” most recently in late 2008, says Jody Orr, co-chair of Haldimand Against Landfill Transfer (HALT). “What happened in 2007 was an attempt to bring garbage in and some members of the Haudenosaunee and our group stopped it. Since then, there has been little activity on the site. We keep a watch on it.”

Blockades and legal battles around dump sites and development have been numerous this summer in Southern Ontario. Site 41 in Simcoe County was slated to have a dump site built on top of it for garbage from the surrounding area. Unfortunately for residents in the area, it would also be on an aquifer containing the “purest water in the world.” Protesters and members of the Council Of Canadians filed an injunction claiming the site was operating illegally in July of 2009 and on September 22 Simcoe County councilors voted to stop construction and development of the site.

Just a few weeks earlier, development at the Hanlon Creek Business Park (HCBP) in Guelph was halted for 30 days by a court injunction. The site had been occupied beginning in July by Guelph and Six Nations protesters. Recently, the City of Guelph voted to halt construction until July 2010.

Both situations mirror developments at the Edwards landfill site in Cayuga.

The Edwards site is within the Haldimand Tract, land granted to Six Nations in 1784. The site was opened in 1959 as an industrial and commercial landfill and has maintained sporadic activity as a dump site since.

Serious contamination of the site occurred between the late 1960s and late 1980s when the St. Lawrence Resin Products Plant was dumping industrial waste there. Thousands of tons of toxic chemicals have been found in the site including toluene, ethylstyrene, xylene, ehtylbenzene, ethyltoluene, methylstyrene, cymene and divinyl benzene.

When the site was opened again as a landfill in 2004, HALT was formed by Cayuga residents hoping to stop continued contamination from the use of the site. “We had tried different steps and had gone through a legal process, and despite that the trucks were still coming in,” says Ann Vallentin, another co-chair of HALT.

In 2007 blockades against trucks associated with Haldimand Norfolk Sanitary Landfill Inc, the company owning the site, began.

“We didn't see another route to go at that point, says Vallentin. “We were not exited but it was a last-resort effort at that point. The blockade was done by Six Nations members and activists at the road at the time.” Eventually an injunction was put against anyone trying to stop the trucks.

The blockades were successful, at least temporarily. The company, having spent a considerable amount of money on site preparation, was unable to deliver garbage. Shortly before, it had gone into bankruptcy and was put into receivership. Receiver Brahm Rosen, of SF Partnership Chartered Accountants in Toronto, has been trying to “operate the landfill and sell it as is our mandate...as receiver.”

“But we can't do it," said Rosen, speaking in the Hamilton Spectator. Rosen was unable to contact this author by deadline.

Similar to Site 41 and HCBP, a collaboration between First Nations and white activists has been key to the success of stopping the Edwards site from further use.

According to Orr, “In HALT, there are people that do not agree with what is happening with a number of issues (such as land claims). Some will be supportive, but not others. On this issue, everyone sees a reason to come together. I don't want to leave my grandkids this kind of legacy. I think that the involvement of the Haudenosaunee was critical in stopping garbage. If it had not been for their decision, I'm not sure what the outcome would have been.”

In 2007, Six Nations spokesperson Ruby Montour said the Haudenosaunee Development Institute had not been informed about revival of the dumpsite and told the Hamilton Spectator: "This is Haudenosaunee land and it's not for garbage. Why should the people who live around there have to fear that?"

The Hoskanigetah of the Grand River, a group within the Haudenosaunee, have made repeated announcements that they will not allow the “reactivation of the Edwards Landfill” promising to “undertake the supervision of our own Environmental Review of contamination.”

Wilf Ruland, a professional geoscientist, says serious contamination at the site exists. Conducting a “Review of 2006 Monitoring Report for Edwards Landfill,” Ruland found that “the existing hazardous wastes on the Edwards Landfill property pose an ongoing threat to both groundwater and surface water quality for as long as they remain on the property.“

The Hoskanigetah have outlined concerns regarding premature births, miscarriages and deformities, pointing out that “the integrity of the same liner used at Edwards Landfill has been breached at other sites including [in] the US, where it has been used.”

In an email, Jennifer Hall, Regional Communications Advisor for the Ministry of the Environment, stated that “the newly constructed landfill cell meets the stringent requirements of Ontario’s landfill design standards.”

HALT disagrees and is now taking the receiver to court, seeking an injunction to stop the development of the site.

“When the receiver got an injunction against the protesters, the CoA [certificate of approval] from the Ministry of Environment had a number of provisions that had been violated,” says Orr. HALT then filed a counter-injunction which stopped work on the site and mandated that protesters would be notified of subsequent work.

“In 2008, a number of conditions still had not been met. The Ministry of Environment was allowing things to go ahead without proper approval. There’s a lack of detail on the decontaminating plan for a very toxic site.”

Like the Hoskanigetah, Orr and HALT have concerns about the integrity of the liner and charge that there is no monitoring of the quality of water and no annual report on environmental plans, as mandated by the certificate of approval. “We’re seeking in court, for prosecution, that this site is operating illegally,” says Orr.

According to Hall, “There were some minor items of non-compliance regarding preparation of the site to receive waste that have since been resolved. The ministry is satisfied that the receiver is in compliance with their CoA and the court order.

“The CoA requires the site owner to monitor ground and surface water on the site for impacts caused by the landfill site. The ministry is confident that the terms and conditions of the CoA will protect groundwater and surface water.“

Though the legal process to stop the site is in its early stages, neither Orr nor Vallentin are optimistic that the site will be permanently closed any time soon.

“Will [the legal work] be effective? I don't know,” says Vallentin. “We were told by people when we started that it was going to happen so there was no reason to try to stop it. But we felt that if it was bad then we have a duty to try to do what we can do. Typically in situations like this companies will keep trying until they wear out people on the ground. Site 41 took 25 years, I hope it wont be the same thing here.”

Geordie Gwalgen Dent is a contributing member of the Toronto Media Co-op.

A version of this article was originally published by the Toronto Media Co-op.

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