Tuesday, July 30, 2013

When is the public interest the same as the interest of the public?

The public interest is not always in the interest of the public.  The fundamental issue that has not been addressed by any of the parties involved in the Codrington Pit application is whether the pit is in the public interest.

It is clearly not in the interest of those members of the public that live adjacent to the pit.  It was overwhelmingly not in the interest of the members of the public who attended three public meetings.  It is obviously in the private interest of CBM St Mary’s.  Brighton Council has conceded to the expression of this private interest.

What though is the Public Interest?

From Brighton township’s point of view, the pit represents an operation equivalent in size to itself.  Each is about $15 million in size. On the face of it an operation of that size will make a significant contribution to the township.  But does it?

In terms of taxes and direct income to the township, the pit makes a very small contribution.  There is a provincial aggregate levy of 11 cents a tonne, some of which is refunded to Brighton.  And there are commercial property taxes levied on the operation. Mr Hurford has indicated that “this is a wash,” meaning that the township garners about the same from CBM’s existing pits as it would from a new pit in Codrington.  This is not a money-maker for the township.

Secondly, from the perspective of the entire community in Brighton, about $10 million stays in the township by way of wages and services purchased locally.  CBM’s contribution to our local economy is not insignificant.  However, this contribution is likely to continue whether Codrington Hill is excavated or not.  It cannot be said that the pit is essential to our public interest.

Thirdly, what is the impact of Codrington on CBM?  At no time, to my knowledge, has CBM presented an economic argument for their operations in Brighton.

CBM is a private company and no public figures exist.  But, from their web site we discover that they have some 40 cement plants and some 22 pits in the province.  If each of these operations produces $5 million a year, then their gross is around $300 million.  Revenue from a pit at Codrington at $15 million, would be about 5% of their annual gross.

But none of this would be new income.  CBM already has an equivalent operation in the township.  While they have said that their other pits would be closed, since exhausted or near to be exhausted, when Codrington opens up, I doubt this would happen if Codrington were to be denied.  There is still value in their pits, and the locations could be used for additional sand and gravel recycling capacity.

Fourthly, with respect to the wider community in which we live, that of our province, what level of provincial public interest exists in Codrington pit?

Each year about 200 million tonnes of aggregate are extracted in Ontario.  Codrington at 500,000 tonnes, represents a tiny fraction of this: about ¼ of 1%.  If Codrington did not happen, the province would not notice!

Further, the policy of MNR is that more should be done to recycle.  If that happens the need for new pits will be reduced.

The development of a gravel pit in Codrington, is thus, not in the provincial public interest.

Lastly, what about the public interest of the citizens of Ontario?  How should we react to the idea of more extraction?

Public Interest in its widest sense is probably summed up in the expression, “Peace, Order and Good Government.”  We strive for a sustainable and satisfying society.

But the environment is not on our side.  Global Warming, Peak Oil, Peak Phosphorus, all threaten our ability to manage a growing economy.  We are running out of our available resources.  We already consume at a rate equivalent to four earth’s worth of resources.  The time, in fact is now, to plan for a sustainable, and not a growing economy.

The extraction of more non-renewable resource is not in this broadest public interest.  It is not sustainable, and counter to our long-term aspirations.

In summary, the wider public interest is not met by the Codrington Pit.  It is clearly not in the interest of the public who live around Ferguson’s hill.  It is only in the parochial interests of CBM and the Brighton Council that the pit can be seen as meeting any sense of public interest.

But this interest is not in the interests of the public.  The public interest is not met with the development of the Codrington pit.