Nestlé backs out of Hillsburgh water battle

Nestlé Waters Canada is withdrawing an appeal surrounding how much water it is allowed to draw from its Hillsburgh well during times of drought.

Set to see conditions found in its recently renewed water-taking permit reviewed further by an Ontario Environmental Review Tribunal (ERT) panel, Nestlé’s request to have the proceedings cancelled has been granted.

The reasons for Nestlé’s decision not to move forward boils down to cost and timing, according to John Challinor, the company’s director of corporate affairs.

“The cost to us, and Ontario taxpayers, because the (province) was with us on this one,” Challinor said, adding Nestlé’s current water-taking permit expires in 2017. “We looked at the cost and the timing and we decided not to proceed any further.”

Meanwhile, the Wellington Water Watchers, Ecojustice and the Council of Canadians are heralding Nestlé’s withdrawal as a significant triumph.

While satisfied by recent events, Emma Lui, national water campaigner for the Council of Canadians, said it is unfortunate the three groups were forced to get involved the Ministry of the Environment’s (MOE) water-taking permit process.

“We, essentially, were doing what the ministry should have been doing,” Lui said. “Nestlé has backed down, but at the same time, it really highlights the role of the ministry in this case.”

The controversy surrounding Nestlé’s well in Hillsburgh began when its water-taking permit was renewed by the MOE in September, 2012.

The permit, which extended Nestlé’s water-taking privileges to August of 2017, allowed the company to draw a maximum of 773 litres per minute, or 1.113 million litres per day.

The permit forced Nestlé to reduce water taking during Level I and II drought declarations. Prior to that, reductions were considered voluntary.

In the past, Challinor stated Nestlé has voluntarily reduced its water takings during Level I and II drought declarations, “and that will continue,” he added.

Citing unfairness, Nestlé argued the mandatory reduction conditions weren’t applied to water takers uniformly across the Grand River watershed.

“We’re definitely the only one,” Challinor said.

After Nestlé appealed those mandatory conditions to the ERT, the company and the MOE drafted a proposed deal that would have relieved the company of those obligations.

Urging those stricter conditions stand, the advocacy groups challenged that proposed deal. In August, an ERT panel ruled the matter be subject to a full environmental hearing.

“It is hard to say why Nestlé dropped it,” Lui said, referring to its recent decision to withdraw from the proceedings. “When the public learned what Nestlé was doing ... it raised a lot of public concern.”

Nestlé’s opponents are now arguing the MOE failed to protect the Hillsburgh community’s water sources by negotiating a settlement with the water bottling company.

“Community groups shouldn’t have to put time and money into challenging the ministry to do its job,” Mike Nagy, chair of the Wellington Water Watchers, said in a news release. “Sadly, the (MOE) failed to protect our communities’ water sources by negotiating a questionable settlement.”

When contacted by The Banner, MOE spokesperson Kate Jordan said the proposed settlement did protect and safeguard the local water supply.

The deal required formal testing and monitoring ensure any change to water taking wouldn’t have an adverse impact, she said.

“This was a precautionary, science-based approach,” Jordan said in an email. “Experience and studies have shown that Nestlé Water Canada's water taking is being done in a way that is sustainable for the surrounding environment.”

Meanwhile, the three water watchdog groups have also sent a letter to the MOE urging reforms to Ontario’s water taking-related laws and policies are undertaken.

In that letter, the groups are recommending the MOE prioritize water uses and conduct cumulative impact assessments of water takings.

“It is the government’s duty to protect groundwater and to prioritize water taking in favour of reasonable community use,” Lui said. “We hope to see more mandatory restrictions on the water takings throughout the province.”

Although the letter raises concerns about the way the MOE approves water permits in Ontario, Jordan said current provincial policies are sound.

“Water taking in the province is well controlled,” she said. “The ministry approves Permits to Take Water only after thorough scientific and technical reviews demonstrate the water taking will not have adverse effects.”

By Chris Halliday
Published in the Orangeville Banner, Oct. 9, 2013

Food and Water First Campaign reaches Toronto

Ontario’s largest municipality will discuss backing the Dufferin County grown Food and Water First Campaign.

At Toronto’s council meeting this week, Coun. Josh Matlow is expected to introduce a motion asking the city to relay its support for the campaign to the premier and ministries of agriculture, rural affairs and municipal affairs and housing.

“City council must signal its support for the agricultural sector and call on the Ontario government to adopt a Food and Water First policy to protect Ontario’s Class A farmland,” the motion states.

The North Dufferin Agricultural and Community Taskforce (NDACT) is leading the charge for the Food and Water First Campaign, an effort to change policies that allow rezoning that compromises food and water sources.

NDACT was created with the mandate to stop The Highland Companies' quarry plans in Melancthon as well as influence change to the province's Aggregate Resources Act (ARA).

With the quarry application withdrawn, the group is now focusing on ensuring legislation exists to protect Ontario’s edible assets.

“The discussion continues to be taken up by people who know how to write policy and move the bigger sticks,” said NDACT chair Carl Cosack. “Maybe the city of Toronto will raise this profile where people say ‘This makes total sense’.”

Cosack said he hopes the motion will lead to Toronto’s executive committee opening the idea of a Food and Water First pledge to public comment and eventually a recommendation to the province.

“The City of Toronto will hopefully take a stand and say ‘We have all this great farmland around us, and its important to keep that available’,” he said.

“It is great to have Toronto city council discuss this and hopeful bring a request forward to our minister of agriculture.”

Aside from the Toronto Food Policy, the city has yet to address preservation of nearby farmland, according to Cosack.

“Growth and development is great, but in the end you have to figure out how to feed yourself,” he said.

“We can develop, we can build houses, but let’s not do it on class one farmland.”

So far, Mulmur, Melancthon, Grand Valley and Amaranth have supported the pledge. NDACT also plans to present the idea to Orangeville, Shelburne and Dufferin County councils.

“Most every rural municipality you talk to ... they’re all interested, but they don’t know what to do with it or how to implement it,” Cosack said. “But there’s great conversations there.”

The Food and Water First notion isn’t new to Toronto.

In 2012, the city hosted Soupstock, where 40,000 people gathered in opposition to The Highland Companies’ quarry plans.

“The more we’re involved with this, the more it seems to be everybody’s bread and butter,” Cosack said.

However, Cosack said landing the support of Toronto politicians wouldn’t be considered a victory by NDACT.

“If you talk about victories, that means there are losers. That’s not what this thing is about,” he said. “We’re tremendously grateful the discussion has gone this far.”

By Bill Tremblay

Published in the Orangeville Banner, October 8, 2013

NDACT ‘thank-you’ event drew 1,500 to Honeywood arena

As many as an estimated 1,500 Food & Water First supporters kept things alive at North Dufferin Recreation Centre (Honeywood arena) Sunday as North Dufferin Agriculture and Community Taskforce (NDACT) provided space for 52 indoor vendors as a sort of “thank you” event.

The numbers might have been difficult to confirm. Nanci Mallouk, a Melancthon councillor and Museum representatives, estimated there were about 500 attending in the arena at any given point. But people were constantly coming and going, vehicles were parked along the roadway almost as heavily as at any annual barbecue, and Carl Cosack estimated up to 1,500, based on the number of riders on his hayrides.

Mr. Cosack is the spokesman for NDACT and was chairman of Sunday’s event. NDACT is currently following through on its quarry victory by promoting a concept of Food and Water First for all rural planning.

“You can’t grow food in a Petri dish. Maybe you’ll be able to in 100 years but, if so, let the people a century from now plan that way. Right now, food depends on farmland. If a country can’t grow enough food for its people, and has to import its food, it is no longer sovereign.

“Why would you make a one-time use (a pit or quarry) out of agricultural land that could grow 20 tons an acre,” he asked rhetorically.

“This is not a political issue.” Conservation of farmland “is just better planning.” Mr. Cosack said he and NDACT are grateful to the media, and in particular to Dale Goldhawk, who dedicated broadcasts to the mega-quarry issue and is continuing to support NDACT’s efforts.

Mr. Goldhawk was also at the NDACT thank-you event as a speaker Sunday. Members of his audience said he was supportive of efforts to protect farmland and water sources. Joan Lever said he “seems to be following what’s happening up here” and getting the message out to lots of people.

Bill Lishman and his “wild goose guide” ultra light aircraft were welcome visitors to the event. Mr. Cosack said the Lishman craft “buzzed” one of his hayrides when it was at the Jeremy Little property at the top of the Niagara Escarpment overlooking the farmland that would have become a megaquarry.

Those trips to the top of Ontario proved to be a delight for visitors from outside the region, many of whom said they had previously had no idea of what the area offers.

It might have been their first opportunity to have a first-hand glimpse of the rare water and land resources Dufferin County offers.

Those resources appear safe for now. But NDACT is maintaining its vigilance and awaiting with interest the report on the Aggregate Resources Act review – which is presumably due soon.

By Wes Keller

Published in the Orangeville Citizen, Aug. 22, 2013

Food fighters unite at Honeywood celebration

Bill Lishman is inviting those who helped stop the megaquarry to join his four decade-long food fight.

Lishman, the first person to fly in formation with birds and the focal point of the 1996 movie Fly Away Home, piloted his ultralight plane to the Food and Water First celebration in Honeywood on Sunday (Aug. 19).

“It was such a lovely day to fly up here. You can’t beat southern Ontario. It’s the most spectacular place in the world as far as I’m concerned,” he said.

Lishman flew from Durham region to Honeywood in an effort to link two farmland battles.

Although known for his aviation efforts, Lishman is also a member of Land Over Landings, a Pickering-based group dedicated to saving farmland from construction of an airport.

“I want you to come down and help us save that land,” Lishman told more than 500 people who joined the celebration. “Foodstock in Pickering would be fantastic.”

The Pickering Airport plan was shelved in 1975. However, the federal government recently announced the airport would be going ahead as planned 40 years ago.

Lishman said the 25,000 acres involved in the project must remain as farmland.

“Some places in the world you can grow five crops per year. Here, you can only grow one. Our land is that much more valuable,” he said.  “We’ve come to a turning point. We must preserve all of our agricultural land.”

Carl Cosack, chair of the North Dufferin Agricultural and Community Taskforce (NDACT), told the crowd their message about protecting farmland is making its way to politicians.

“You are being heard, and there are many people who bring this message to Queen’s Park,” he said.

While Premier Kathleen Wynne, who also serves as Minister of Agriculture, did not accept an invite to the celebration, she sent a letter of appreciation to NDACT.

“I appreciate the passion you all bring to this very important issue,” she wrote. “I believe as premier we can balance our need for aggregate resources while ensuring we protect our farmland.”

Cosack encouraged his fellow farmland advocates to continue similar efforts that led to The Highland Companies to withdraw their Melancthon quarry plans.

“If you think you won a victory, which without a doubt you have, let’s finish the job,” he said. “It’s democracy at is very best. You’ve done it once, lets do it again."

By Bill Tremblay

Published in the Orangeville Banner, August 22, 2013

Click here to see the great photos.

Better legislation needed to govern quarries (letter)

Dear editor,

Many people think the mega quarry battle is over now that Bonnefield has bought the farmland that was first proposed for the mega quarry.

Although we are all very pleased that Bonnefield, with its stated purpose of encouraging farmers, are the new owners, we cannot depend on the goodwill of individual companies to protect our precious resources for future generations.

Even if all companies had only the best intentions (a most unlikely scenario), companies come and go.

We must have intelligent and comprehensive legislation governing quarries so that another egregious application such as Highland’s could never even be contemplated in the future.

 The current ARA does not make any sense whatsoever:

• It offers no protection for prime farmland. Canada’s vast landmass contains only 0.5 per cent of rare Class 1 farmland, and most of this is in southern Ontario. We are in danger of no longer being self-sufficient in food production as farmland is rapidly disappearing with urbanization and quarrying.

• It does not protect our precious water resources.  Although Canada has enormous water resources, most are inaccessible.  Water is fast becoming one of the most valuable commodities, and there is world wide concern about its conservation.

• Each time an inappropriate application is made, the public has to raise a huge protest at great expense, time and effort.

• It specifies that “need” is not a consideration, thereby allowing aggregate to be exported.

• It allows the industry to pay minimal fees for extracting the aggregate. Even some in the industry itself allow that the fees should be increased. Also, one of the effects of allowing “cheap aggregate” to trump all other considerations is that there is no incentive to recycle, thereby using ever more aggregate and dumping the used material in our already overburdened disposal sites.

• The final decision is made by the unelected and much criticized OMB.

It simply does not make sense that there are no clear rules to prohibit quarrying on prime farmland, on land where such activities would jeopardize the water,  special UNESCO land, or in other situations with profoundly negative effects.

It does not make sense that the public in each case must bear the burden of acting in the best interest of the province and its people as well as future generations.

We must continue to pressure our representative to do the right thing — by joining NDACT (This email address is being protected from spambots. You need JavaScript enabled to view it. or, putting up a “Food & Water First” sign on your lawn or automobile, or whatever else we must do to stop this reckless disregard of the big picture.

Christina Wigle, Creemore

Published in the Orangeville Banner, Aug. 15, 2013