When Woolwich council’s environmental watchdog reconvenes next month, it will have a whole new look to go with a refined mandate.
Councillors this week appointed six members to the Chemtura Public Advisory Committee, only one of whom has previous experience with the group. Alan Marshall makes a return after being removed from CPAC three years ago after being deemed a disruptive influence.
With none of the long-serving members opting to serve on the restructured committee, the way was cleared for his reinstatement.
He’ll be joined by Ron Campbell, Vivienne Delaney, Lynn Hare, Dr. Dan Holt and David Marks.
The appointments follow last month’s adoption of new terms of reference for the committee. Although only slightly altered, the changes called for an open, public approach to meetings, as mandated by provincial legislation given that CPAC is a committee of council. Differences over the newly-elected council’s plans for CPAC saw none of the previous members return, many removing their names from consideration.
While disappointed with the decision of some of those members, Mayor Todd Cowan said the committee needed some changes. During last fall’s municipal election, he campaigned on a new role and focus for the organization.
The new terms of reference essentially formalize the committee structure, making for greater council involvement in the process. A report approved by councillors sets out a series of changes, including a regular reporting cycle to council, required consultation between CPAC and council on major issues, and a process for communicating to the public.
“We’re moving forward,” said Cowan, noting CPAC had perhaps become bogged down in minutia related to the treatment of groundwater in Elmira’s aquifers. He sees a broader watchdog role for the committee, pointing to other issues such as last fall’s release of the compound BLE 25, which subsequently rained down on a large swath of the town.
Beyond communicating the message, CPAC should be holding the company accountable for having a system in place that saw excess pressure in a treatment vessel being vented up a stack, with the resultant chemical mess spread out over Elmira.
“When something does happen, yes it’s good to let the community know, but also to follow up on what’s being done to make sure it doesn’t happen again,” he said.
Acknowledging CPAC has no real power – “the MOE has the stick” – Cowan said there’s no reason the group can’t be proactive about some of the community’s concerns, which extend beyond the initial reason for CPAC’s formation: the 1989 discovery of toxins in Elmira’s drinking water and the subsequent piping-in of water from Waterloo.
CPAC’s mandate began with the discovery of contaminated groundwater in Elmira more than 20 years ago. Under an MOE control order, what was then Uniroyal Chemical (later Crompton and now Chemtura) was made to form a community advisory committee to oversee the process of remediation. That treatment of the groundwater continues, and is supposed to be completed by 2028.
“I don’t think most people are too concerned about the groundwater, but are we on track for 2028? If not, then what are we doing about it?” asked Cowan, noting other issues such as odours – largely curtailed – and other releases have more direct consequences.
“Elmira residents need to have a level of confidence that we’re on top of it,” he said of CPAC’s role.
The new committee’s first meeting is scheduled for May, and will include a briefing from the Ministry of the Environment to give members an overview of the situation.