Residents want “purest water” protected, get few answers at Dufferin meeting
Around 150 people packed the Wyebridge Community Centre last Tuesday September 19 to hear about plans to extract gravel from the Waverley Uplands, the recharge area for the “purest water in the world.”
The Uplands are a key element of a natural filtration system that results in water that’s been repeatedly tested as cleaner than 5,000-year-old arctic cores. William Shotyk, Bocock Chair of Agriculture and the Environment at the University of Alberta, who’s been testing the area’s water for two decades, recently appeared before meetings of Tiny and Springwater councils to urge that they protect the water.
Paradoxically, the very purity of the water means it can take more pollution before it reaches the level that the Ontario environment ministry considers “unacceptable.”
Dan O’Hara, general manager of Dufferin Aggregates, opened the meeting with the hope that many of residents’ questions would be answered. “We value your opinions,” he told the crowd.
Dufferin tried to keep a tight rein on the meeting, which was run by a facilitator hired by the company, instructing that no recordings be made or photographs taken of the proceedings. Neither were there handouts providing details of the project, names of the company representatives or any contact information should residents wish to initiate followup.
After talking for half an hour in general terms about the company’s positive environmental record – but with no discussion of the specifics of the Waverley project – the company attempted to get the crowd to break up into small groups.
That was strongly rejected by residents.
Dump Site 41 veteran Anne Ritchie-Nahuis spoke up, emphasizing the importance of people being able to hear all the questions asked by their neighbours and the answers given by Dufferin.
“Water is the most important thing for this community,” she said, “and you have presented nothing from that point of view to the 6 million-litres-a-day water-taking permit.”
“We’ve heard nothing from a hydrogeologist,” she added.
Don Morgan of AWARE Simcoe stood up to demand an undertaking that residents will continue have the same kind of filtration that the Waverley Uplands presently provides.
“Where we are right now is the recharge area,” he said. “What rehabilitation does Dufferin have planned to rehabilitate an area that purifies the water and gives us the Alliston aquifer, the best water in the world? How do you do that? How do you propose to give us the same kind of filtering that we currently have?”
Local resident Peter Anderson asked how much recycled asphalt and concrete can be put in that site. “Also what are your plans to stop that from leaching into the water table and going into our aquifer which is gold standard water, some of the purest water in the world – and we want what protected and we have a right to that.”
“There is no concrete and asphalt on that site, it’s not in our plans,” a Dufferin official said.
“But you’re licensed for it,” a resident called out.
“Take it out of the license,” another said.
There will be no off-site discharge, a Dufferin spokesperson said. A natural wetland adjacent to the site will not be affected, he said.
Dufferin asked people to leave their email addresses so they could get a committee set up.
Members of Tiny council who were at the meeting were Mayor George Cornell, and Councillors Richard Hinton, Gib Wishart and Cindy Hastings. Springwater Mayor Bill French and Deputy Mayor Don Allen also attended.
No one from the provincial ministries of the environment or natural resources identified themselves as being present.
All those who spoke made it clear that the water is important to them.
Anderson referred to the hundreds (thousands) of people who drive to get their drinking water from the flow north of Elmvale because they value its purity.
Some residents raised the issue of indigenous rights. A Dufferin official said the company was consulting elsewhere that very evening with First Nations.
But Sara Monague, one of the Anishnaabe Kweag from Beausoleil First Nation who set up a protest camp across from Dump Site 41 in 2009, resulting in the cancellation of the project, challenged that assertion.
She asked why her people were not invited to the Wyebridge meeting. “I and my niece here, and my mother, and all of our family that we met out here, we fought long and hard to protect that aquifer. Because we need to make sure that we protect the purest water in the world for the next seven generations,” she said to loud applause.