Public peppers York1 officials with questions

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Angela Richards, Michele Lalonge-Davey and Sandra Hart were part of the crowd protesting the proposed expansion of a landfill north of Dresden on March 1. The project, spearheaded by York1, a Mississauga-based company, is mired in controversy with the community only learning of the scope of the proposal when it was posted on the Environmental Registry of Ontario at the end of January.

‘They don’t have any answers’

By Pam Wright
Local Journalism Initiative Reporter

Kerry Mall isn’t satisfied with the response he got from York1 officials at a March 1 public information regarding the proposed expansion of a landfill near Dresden.

“They don’t have any answers,” the local businessman told The Chatham Voice at the session attended by hundreds of area residents. “We are not happy with that; the community is not happy with that.

“You can see it here,” Mall said as he gestured towards the noisy packed hall at the Ken Houston Memorial Agriculture Centre.

Mall, who had a heated exchange with York1 vice-president of environmental George Kirchmair, got straight to the point.

“Why are you even coming here?” Mall asked Kirchmair. “Why do you want to disturb a small town?”

George Kirchmair, vice president of environmental services for York1, and Vakis Boutsalis, vice-president and partner at kg&a, a public relations firm representing York1, found themselves in the hot seat while Gary Edwards, Suzanne Glasgow and Kerry Mall asked questions about what’s in store for the proposed landfill/recycling facility on Irish School Road north of Dresden. A special information meeting put on by the company at the Dresden arena March 1 saw hundreds of people turn out to find out more and let York1 know they are not happy.

York1, a large Mississauga-based firm specializing in demolition and the recycling of soil and construction waste, currently has two applications before the Environmental Registry of Ontario to expand the scope of an existing permit at the site located just north of the community at 29831 Irish School Rd.

The applications ask the province to allow a “regenerative recycling facility” that would bring in 6,000 tonnes of non-hazardous waste per day for recycling, with additional capacity for 1,000 tonnes to be landfilled, and that the site be used for waste disposal, with a capacity for 1.62 million cubic metres, averaging 1,000 tonnes per day.

The Friday meeting was the second public information session put on by York1. There was no seating available at the event. Instead, attendees filled into the hall in a long line to speak with company representatives at separate information tables.

Both York1 proposals ask for permission to run the facility around the clock, seven days a week. Local residents fear the effect truck traffic will have on the community, as well as impacts to water wells and to the sensitive Sydenham River watershed that’s home to several species at risk.

Critics estimate that there will be upwards of 150 trucks a day travelling to the site.

When responding to questions from Mall and others about why Dresden was chosen, Kirchmair said York1 was contacted by former owner Mark Smith, who operated Waste Wood Disposal Ltd. since 1991. It’s reported that Smith sold the business to the company in December of 2022 for more than $2 million.

According to a York1 information handout, the province issued the original landfill permit to the Town of Dresden in 1970. Historically, the site was used as a tile yard to make clay tiles.

When responding to Mall and others, Kirchmair admitted the proposal is asking for a “high” amount of waste tonnage.

“That is the amount we’ve applied for operational flexibility,” Kirchmair told Mall.

“When you make an application to amend an existing application permit, you don’t do them every day. You don’t do them every year. You apply for flexibility looking far into the future,” he said. “We bought an existing recycling facility that’s been here for 50 years.”

While tensions ran high inside the meeting, outside a spirited crowd lined North Street, waving homemade signs bearing the “Say no to the dump” message.

Among them were Mike and Angie Richards, who own a 164-acre property abutting the York1 site, directly to the east.

The couple said they were approached by real estate agents to sell the land last fall, but despite being offered “millions,” they’ve vowed never to sell to York1.

According to Angie, who is a trustee for the Lambton Kent District School Board, the pair was offered $35,000 an acre for the land, whereas similar farmland was selling for $21,000 an acre.

“We realized there was more to it because the price was so high,” Angie explained. “That tells you there is something else going on.”

The couple, who have a son who farms, wants to keep the land in the family.

The Richards say they won’t stop fighting the proposal.

“Our kids, our community, our land, our waterways are way more important,” Angie said.

Two farms already changing hands. York1 officials have said these will be used as a part of a buffer zone for the facility.

Following a unanimous decision to and vehement opposition by C-K council Feb. 26, Mayor Darrin Canniff has fired off a letter to Ontario Minister of Environment, Conservation and Parks Andrea Khanjin Feb. 29, asking the government to reject York1’s proposal. However, if the government okays it, Chatham-Kent wants the province to place the proposal under the Environmental Assessment Act and undertake a full assessment to ensure impacts are “fully evaluated before a decision is made.”

C-K’s letter states the ministry “appears to be prepared to allow a decision on a major waste facility with a provincial scale and serious future consequences to our municipality be exempt from current approval requirements based on outdated historical approvals from a bygone environmental regime.”

There has been some discrepancy as to how much knowledge Chatham-Kent had prior York1’s recent applications.

North Kent Coun. Jamie McGrail, who attended Friday’s meeting, told The Voice said she has met with York1 officials three times since 2021, but indicated the first was a preliminary introduction, with the company letting Chatham-Kent know it had purchased the property. At the time, they told C-K they were considering a recycling facility.

But no plan was ever presented to the municipality, McGrail stressed.

“I want to be very clear, they were not forthcoming with any kind of plan,” McGrail said, noting the municipality learned about the full scope of the project when the application was posted to the registry.

“They don’t have answers,” McGrail said. “We’re not happy with that. At no time did York1 ever provide myself or administration with any real proposal,” she said. “There was no proposal so we could understand the reality of what they are considering.”

North Kent Coun. Rhonda Jubenville, who also attended Friday’s meeting, said she knew about the original purchase of the site and attended two meetings with York1. But she did not know the full scope of the expansion plans until residents of the neighbouring farms received letters from the company and the application was posted online in January.

“I personally can say I did not know how huge the scope of this was going to become,” Jubenville stated.

“They (York1) were asked to share their plans and to conduct a full environment assessment,” she added. “This was not done.”

McGrail and Jubenville are requesting that a town hall meeting be held on the matter to be facilitated by the municipality.

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