Monday, August 19, 2013

The Codrington OMB hearing

Well, it came, it happened.  The OMB in the person of madam chair Sills came to Brighton on August 19th.  Four days had been set aside for the hearing, but I doubt it will even extend to two.  The pit will be approved.

What surprised me about the process was that in effect there was no process.  The lawyer for CBM, the applicant for the pit appeared to be in charge!  The chair should have been in charge, ie there was no other authority, but she deferred in effect to one of the lawyers, Mr White.  Mr Fairweather (?) representing Brighton and the County, in effect did so too, allowing Mr White to direct proceedings,  hardly an impartial way of doing things.

When I raised, what I thought was a reasonable point of order, concerning the way in which things were to unfold, expecting some indication of the timing, as to even, whether we would take a lunch break or a dinner break, I was told in effect, that things would unfold as they unfolded, with no indication of time frame, or even sense that one was required.

The great disappointment was that only 3 of the "participants" had shown up.  Five just were not there! This meant that in particular since Mr England was absent, that a substantive science-based rebuttal of the claims of CBM would not be presented, could not be presented.

My presentation was as follows, similar to my previous blog, but addressing also the process of the application and the parallel process of the official plan.  I dont think my essay will sway the board much, since she insisted throughout the morning on looking for "evidence."  My talk was not evidence that the pit will harm the community in a substantive way.  Anyway here it is.


Madam Chair, my name is Colin Griffiths.  I am here as a resident of Brighton, of Northumberland and of Ontario, deeply concerned about the process of this application before you.  My comments will be expressly directed against approval of a pit in Codrington.

With your indulgence, I expect my presentation to take no more than 20 minutes.

You have granted me a role here as a participant.  I do not have any direct involvement in the proposal, not having any landholding in the area, nor having any road frontage likely to be impacted by pit operations.  I am here as a resident, elector and a taxpayer.

It is my understanding that your role in reviewing the application is not only to consider the legal and procedural issues arising from the application, but also to consider wider policy issues.  It is largely in this latter context that I wish to address you, though I plan to begin by commenting on the process that has been followed.

The Official Plan Amendment #26 (OPA26), is an amendment to Brighton Township’s official plan adopted in 1985.  OPA26 was required to enable a zoning change requested by St Mary’s Cement Inc. (CBM) in May 2009, and was approved by Brighton on 5th December, 2011, and by the Ministry of Municipal Affairs and Housing (MMAH) on June 29th, the following year.

Through this same time period, Brighton and its residents were grappling with a new Official Plan.  The first public meeting on the new OP was held in October 2007, 2 years before CBM’s application was made, with the Municipality adopting the plan in July 2010, a year before OPA26 was adopted.  However, this latest plan, our “new” Official Plan, is not yet the basis for our decisions since we are still waiting, now some 3 years later, for MMAH approval.

If nothing comes out of this hearing, I would strongly urge you to expedite the approval process on this plan.

I think we can all be excused if there has been significant public confusion as to which Official Plan the municipality is operating under.  It is worth noting that some of the correspondence with MMAH on OPA26 shows this same confusion, referring to the official plan of the municipality and not the township.

The relevance of this is that the terms of the new plan differ quite strongly with respect to aggregate extraction from the old.  There is considerable doubt in my mind that OPA26 would be accepted under the provisions of our new plan.

The Official Plan as adopted is abundantly clear.  On page 15 of the Plan, para. 2.4.9, a section expressly addressing sand and gravel extraction, we are told:

“Where rural residential development has occurred in proximity to aggregate reserve areas, these lands will no longer be identified for future extraction of Aggregate Resources. Similarly, rural residential development will not be permitted where it could limit future opportunities for aggregate resource extraction.”

At the time of both plans, the subject lands were designated not for mineral extraction.  Under the new plan, this designation would be much harder to change.  This stipulation is likely the main reason public pressure against the pit has been as strong as it has been.  But a stipulation in an official plan not the official plan of the municipality.

Fundamentally, a decision to permit a pit in Codrington runs completely counter to the spirit and the letter of our new official plan.  If this gravel operation is allowed to proceed, the social and physical character of a rural community will be irretrievably altered. Many of the residents in Codrington chose to locate there because of its peace, its beauty, its tranquility.  According to page 4 of Brighton’s unapproved Official Plan, the people of Codrington are perfectly justified in holding that belief,

“Private interests, by being informed of the long-term objectives for the Municipality, may make decisions on their operations in the context of consistent and predictable public policies.”

Now the process that council has followed, has in general been very open and public.  It has been consistent, but only predictable if we ignore the latest plan.  There have been three widely advertised public meetings, at which the proponents have made their case, and the public has been given a chance to comment.

Throughout this process, all but one speaker has voiced opposition to the proposal, and this at the first very well attended meeting.  While the number of attendees at the public meetings has diminished, the strength of opposition has not decreased.  It strikes me as a singular public relations failure by CBM, not to have found a greater number of defendants of their proposal in the general public.  One has to presume they do not exist.

The process recently resulted in an agreement between the County, CBM and Brighton concerning the operation of a pit in Codrington.  This agreement represents a very reasonable approach to the management of the pit, and to the management of the residential water supply in the event that pit operations cause interference.  My only quibble with it is that the well sampling protocol is not planned to be continuous throughout the life of the pit.  But otherwise, I think this agreement has been negotiated by all parties with the best interests of all involved, residents, company, township and county.  They are all to be commended for their dedication to that task.

However, the supposition has to have been that the pit would be approved.  While it appears that the pit is now approved, the appeal of OPA26 having been withdrawn, and Brighton Council having voted in favour of the re-zoning bylaw, because of the confusion over which plan applies, and the overlapping timing in approval of both plan and amendment, some reconsideration of the approval is appropriate.  I would hope you would take notice of this in your deliberations.

I want to turn now to consider whether the pit is really in the public interest.

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.

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, my estimate is that 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 Ferguson 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.  CBM is not required to make its financial situation public.  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 when Codrington opens up, since exhausted or near to be exhausted, 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.  Business as usual is the conventional wisdom, in order to maintain a growing economy.  But this conventional wisdom has to be seriously questioned.  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.  If we continue to treat our environment as expendable, we will have none left in the relatively near future.

Sustainability means doing today what we can do again tomorrow.  It does not mean an economy growing at a steady pace.  Recycling has to be better than extraction, since we cannot extract the same resource tomorrow.

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 barely in the interest of the province.  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 interest of the public.  The public interest is not met with the development of the Codrington pit.