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Case Closed?

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Issue: 65 Section: Environment Geography: Ontario Simcoe County Topics: water, development, landfill

November 20, 2009

Case Closed?

Site 41 resistance seeks revocation of environmental permit

by Dan Kellar

No dump will be built on Site 41 this year, but County Council will not restore the Site, and has left a door open to its future development. Photo: Dan Kellar

WATERLOO, ON—The “People’s Fire” has been allowed to burn to ashes at the 150-day-old protest camp on 2nd Concession Road in Simcoe County, across from the proposed Site 41 landfill development 45 kilometres east of Blue Mountain, Ontario.

Site 41 sits on top of the Alliston aquifer, which contains some of the world’s purest groundwater and is connected with water sources across Southern Ontario, including Georgian Bay and the Oak Ridges Moraine.

For the protesters, many small victories have been achieved; still, this community demonstrates vigilance in its efforts to ensure a landfill is never built on the property.

September 22, 2009 will remain lodged in the memories of everyone involved in the Site 41 struggle as the day Simcoe County Council voted 26-3 in favour of cancelling the proposed garbage dump project.

However, those who remained encamped until October 20 (when they decided to shut down the protest camp for pre-winter agricultural preparations) note that while the current project has been called off, Council voted 22-7 against a motion to have the Ministry of the Environment’s Certificate of Approval (CofA) rescinded. The defeat of this second motion raises doubts about Council’s sincerity in their disapproval of the controversial dump project.

A communiqué from those who kept vigil at the site after the Sacred Fire was allowed to burn down in September was printed in a recent edition of the Tekawennake News. It declared: “The struggle has been so long, so hard and the most current victory so tangible, so close, that it seems unforgivable to cast any doubt on the enthusiasm so freely offered by the media and politicians.”

The letter continues, “First and most pressing, the CofA is still in effect and its power cannot be underestimated... This is a very real danger.”

Rejecting the current CofA would force any newly-proposed developments to undertake a new environmental impact assessment process. This was a process which, for this contested garbage dump development, took more than 20 years to complete, and was loaded with well-documented political pressure. By not annulling the CofA, Council leaves open the possibility for future development of the site—either for the County or a private developer who purchases the land.

Those writing from the People’s Fire insist they will continue to protest, as their communiqué states, “Until such a time as the Certificate of Approval is revoked for good.”

They acknowledge that, in the face of massive public relations spending by the County, they "need more than ever to maintain a strong presence and not to suddenly fade away in the face of our first victories.” They warn that “there is a very real danger of privatization...” and that without unrelenting pressure, another 30-year-long battle against development could take place, “This time at the hands of a faceless, multinational corporation instead of a local, elected County Council.”

Council has budgeted $250,000 for public relations consultations in an effort at “cleansing the fallout of the Site 41 debacle,” wrote Travis Mealing of the Midland Mirror.

While the debate around the PR costs continues, County environmental services director, Rob McCullogh, insists that restoring the land that was disrupted due to construction of garbage holding cells would be too expensive. The high-end estimate for recovery at the site is $368,000.

Refusing restoration means damage which occurred, according to the Council of Canadians, when cell construction commenced in violation of County Council approval processes, will not be reversed.

County Warden, Tony Guergis, maintains that the County no longer seeks to build a landfill on the site. However, Guergis’ sincerity is also being called into question; soon after he was elected, Guergis changed his stark opposition to the dump to a position of strong support. Meanwhile, County CAO Mark Aitken recently asked, in reference to removing the infrastructure that was built to support a dump site, “Why would [the County] remove all those things when you’re not sure if they have a use in the future?”

While the protest camp itself is no longer active, the campaigns for ecological and social justice continue. The "Restore and Revoke" campaign is working toward having the CofA cancelled and ensuring that the land is restored to a state which is as near its pre-disruption state as possible. A campaign is also underway to have the mischief and intimidation charges dropped for the 17 protesters arrested at Site 41. Only Indigenous protesters were charged with intimidation.

United by the responsibility of local environmental and community protection, and by the direct actions they took to protect the land and the water from the project that the Senior Advisor on Water to the President of the UN General Assembly, Maude Barlow, calls “ill conceived,” the Site 41 resistance vows to persevere until the permanent restoration and protection of this precious land is achieved.

Dan Kellar is a geography PhD student in Waterloo and an analytical banner painter with AW@L.

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Comments

Tony Guergis

Guergis had to step down from his position as Warden of Simcoe County after his embarrassing handling of the Site 41 issue.Guergis must surely have been aware that a back lash and ultimately humiliation were going to come if he ran for another term as Warden. Guergis is a proffesional politician and did not want to suffer any adverse publicity which ultimately would affect his only pay check as Mayor of Springwater. Guergis is a traitor to the people of Simcoe County and also a coward unlike the many that put themselves on the line to prevent Site 41.

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