The latest order issued from the Environment Ministry regarding the abandoned Thane smelter site in Georgina has prompted a call from various sources for public comment before the May 6 deadline.
The draft order, posted by the Ministry of Environment and Climate Change, requires property owner Howard Sniatowski to produce a remediation/mitigation plan for the site on Warden Avenue in Keswick.
James Calnan of consulting firm QDM Associates, and a former councillor for Brantford, said this is a prime opportunity for Georgina residents to brainstorm about what should be done with the 20-acre site of the former smelter operation that left an environmental mess in its wake after shutting its doors in 1997.
Calnan, in association with a local green energy company TPLC Holdings Inc of Georgina, will host a public workshop April 30 at the Keswick Presbyterian Church on Woodbine Avenue from 1 to 4 p.m. to find out what residents think should be done with the site.
“Redeveloping the old Thane smelter site is not about politics and it’s not just about the environment. It’s about the future of this community and how we can show the world that even in small places great things can happen,” Calnan said.
“We’re looking to engage people around the realities of brownfield redevelopment,” he added.
“In my community, we have had many sites like Thane and in worse condition. Getting them clean and ready for reuse takes community vision and an understanding of the hard realities of land development, and we’re bringing that experience with us to Keswick.”
Calnan said the focus of the workshop is on moving forward.
“We’re well past the blame stage. It’s time for a solution.”
Local resident and environmental activist Debbie Gordon has a different take on the ministry’s proposed order, saying it is unreasonable and inappropriate.
She also hopes people will provide comment to the ministry and is offering a sample letter to residents who share her opinion that the dross and salt slag should be ordered removed from the site as “a permanent solution that would protect future generations from having to deal with the owner and his non-compliance.”
Gordon filed her own legal proceedings separate from the town’s against the ministry last year after a cleanup order on the site was removed without notification to the town or public. She said it is unreasonable to prepare an order that requires the owner to come up with his own plan and to contemplate measures that would require ongoing site management by the same owner, “who has a terrible track record of non-compliance.”
“There is no reasonable prospect of the site owners complying with these measures so that the wetland is protected,” Gordon said.
The proposed order only requires Sniatowski and Thane to prepare a mitigation plan.
The ministry has numerous reports and consultants’ opinions that indicate that the slag wastes should be removed to protect the wetland.
“Leaving the slag on the site, even with a possible mitigation plan of some kind, presents indefinite risks to the wetland and to the Maskinonge River, as well as to groundwater,” Gordon said.
In Gordon’s opinion, the order also doesn’t require any public transparency about what mitigation measures would be required or how the wetland would be protected.
The remediation plan, itself, would be proposed and approved behind closed doors since the order requires nothing further.
“This is a slap in the face to the participants in the public liaison committee.”
Gordon, and her Ecojustice lawyer, Laura Bowman, say the ministry caused the problems on the site by allowing the owners to accumulate wastes on it for decades and contend it is the ministry’s responsibility to ensure the slag and other wastes are removed immediately.
“Instead, the ministry is contemplating allowing an illegal waste site to persist without requiring either an application for remediation under the brownfields regulations or a proper landfill approval,” Gordon said. “The ministry is doing an end-run around the required legal process to create a waste site and cutting out the community from its plans for the smelter site.”