Wallaceburg Coun. Jeff Wesley says citizens objecting to closing Wallaceburg’s water treatment plant have won a temporary victory with news that the matter is being deferred.
“I received word that the PUC (Public Utilities Commission) will not be discussing the matter until March,” he said. “I’m happy that it’s being pushed back so everyone has time to look at the matter, but this issue is far from settled.”
The possibility of closing the Wallaceburg plant and building a pipeline to connect the community with Chatham’s Lake Erie supply was to have been discussed at the PUC meeting Jan. 15.
Andrew Galloway, an engineering technologist with the PUC, said last week the commission would review the recommendation from Stantec Consulting, after which it will examine which course of action to take.
The move has been widely criticized in Wallaceburg, with local environmentalists from the group WATCH (Wallaceburg Advisory Team for a Cleaner Habitat), business groups and others opposed. More than 100 people have contacted the PUC and Stantec Consulting, authors of the study, with their concerns.
A petition on change.org has generated nearly 500 signatures and Wesley said the numbers to date are only the tip of the iceberg.
“I have yet to find even one person who has told me they’d rather drink Lake Erie water,” he said. “I have had all kinds of people say Chatham-Kent is going to do exactly what it wants, so why bother. There’s no doubt that suppression is keeping the numbers down.”
That sentiment was echoed by Henrie Timmers of Wallaceburg, who said the attitude by officials at a public input meeting in November was condescending.
“Despite calling it a public input meeting, it was anything but,” he said. “We were told what to like, what to think and that there wasn’t anything we could do about it.”
Timmers said he received a “rubberstamped” response to the concerns voiced to Stantec and the PUC.
“Basically, it’s a ‘thank you.’ I raised some serious issues about arsenic and whether we could question the quality between Lake Erie water and our current source, and I’d better get more than what I’ve received so far.”
Wesley sent an e-mail to all Chatham-Kent councillors and PUC members expressing his concern about what he called “major flaws” in the process, which, if not corrected, “will involve the entire council and Municipality of Chatham-Kent.
He said PUC staff in attendance at the November meeting told people in the audience “you might as well go home as this is a done deal.
“I’m outraged that this is what passes for public consultation,” he said. “It’s improper and demeans the process.”
He said he has asked three times that the Walpole Island First Nation (WFIN) be consulted since they draw from the same water source, are friends and neighbours of the community and there could be aboriginal title issues involved.
“They may have some input into a solution that works for both of our communities,” he said. “I was told repeatedly that WIFN had been consulted. After the public meeting I met with the Chief of WIFN and he was very clear that they had not been consulted.”
Wesley said the PUC has a long way to go to establish any type of credibility with the Wallaceburg community.
In his letter to council and the PUC, Wesley said three things have to happen before the matter can be properly considered.
- Complete a full, proper, open public consultation meeting where all of the options are on the table (in advance), and local citizens and business leaders can get their questions answered. The members of the PUC should attend to listen and learn and they should also review all of the submissions made by the public on this matter.
- A full consultation between WIFN and the C-K PUC (including Commissioners) must be held.
- A meeting must be held with WATCH (one is being scheduled) and their concerns discussed and addressed.
“This issue has been handled about as poorly as any issue I’ve encountered,” Wesley said. “They’ve picked the wrong community if they expect Wallaceburg residents to sit by and be treated like this.”