Misreading the pulse of the public


tap water

It took all of 27 minutes for public credibility regarding Stantec Consulting’s study on Wallaceburg water service to gurgle down the drain last week.

It was at that point in the presentation to Wallaceburg residents June 9 the firm revealed it had given consideration to moving the town’s water intake from the Snye River to the Sydenham River.

You could almost hear tbe jaws dropping, followed by mocking laughter, anger and incredulity of more than 100 people in the audience.

The explanation given was that the consultants had to cover all the options because the province wouldn’t approve the project otherwise.

Chatham Mazda from Chatham Voice on Vimeo.

The Sydenham River hasn’t been a source of potable water since the early 1900s and the public is being asked to believe that unless it’s considered as one now, a multi million dollar project will be jeopardized?

The statement simply confirmed the belief among many that the report is a reflection of what PUC management wants, not what’s best for residents, notwithstanding the strong denial of that from PUC general manager Tom Kissner.

It’s the third public meeting on the project but to call them public input meetings is a bit of a misnomer. It seems clear that what is being sought is not input but blind acceptance.

If ever a consultant underestimated public interest in a subject, this was it.

Stantec and the PUC were on their heels when questioned about the scope of the study – no, the issue of connecting with Lambton County’s system wasn’t fully investigated (it was assumed to be too expensive); no, the idea of supplying Chatham with water from Wallaceburg wasn’t even considered (out of the scope of the project, no doubt); and no, the idea of water quality wasn’t considered an issue worthy of mention.

Questions still remain about gaps in the costing of various options.

In its presentation, Stantec had still not acknowledged the widespread opposition from business and environmental groups, online petitions and senior politicians.

Lake Huron is deeper, cleaner, has less industry and population and doesn’t suffer from the blight of algae blooms and agricultural runoff while Chatham’s supply from Lake Erie has been plagued by foul smelling, discoloured water which just cost $1 million to deal with.

Ohio water intakes on Lake Erie were closed last year due to poor water quality.

It’s understandable why residents questioned the veracity of the report.

There were comments made about the emotion of the issue, as if that emotion had replaced logic in the minds of the crowd.

The consultants didn’t seem to realize that many of those in attendance have fought much bigger foes (and that’s what this appears to be to them, a fight) when they took on the multinational chemical industries in Sarnia for pollution.

As a result of their persistence, their lobbying, their partnerships with First Nations and yes, their technical abilities, Wallaceburg residents played a key role in cleaning up what was once known as the chemical “blob” in the bottom of the St. Clair River.

These people will not be intimidated by professional designations and they won’t be dismissed with a “we know what’s best for you” attitude.

If Stantec would have provided all of the information well in advance of the first meeting last year, acknowledged the community’s past and not underestimated the value of public input – real input which may not agree with its findings, it perhaps wouldn’t find itself in the mess it’s in.


  1. Thank you, Mr. James J. Blake for telling it like it is! Would it be asking too much to find out how much Stantec has made so far on this farce of a study? How much are taxpayers in C-K paying for this lunacy?

  2. I had heard a couple of years ago this was the decision of the PUC , In my opinion it looks like Stantec was hired to justify what the powers that be thought could be poured down our throat. I would liek the media to do a little more digging and see what they could find out , when it smells like there is a rotten apple in the basket – there usually is you just have to move a few things.


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