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Woolwich to axe CPAC for new review format

Looking to woo Chemtura and the Ministry of the Environment back into the fold, Woolwich is scrapping the citizen watchdog that monitors the Elmira chemical company in favour of a new, less adversarial format.

Neither Chemtura nor the ministry has been attending meetings of the current Chemtura Public Advisory Committee (CPAC).

CPAC will be dissolved as of August 31, replaced by two new bodies, the Remediation Advisory Committee (RAC), which will be the CPAC’s direct substitute, and a Technical Advisory Group (TAG), will provide technical advice and recommendations to RAC.

Woolwich councillors meeting Tuesday night reviewed the changes, including the terms of reference for the two new groups. They’ll vote on the changes June 23, waiting on further input from the public.

The goal is make more amicable the relationship between the chemical producer and the government body that’s supposed to monitor Chemtura’s pollutants. To that end, RAC will consist of two representatives from township council (the mayor will serve as chair), someone from the Region of Waterloo and Grand River Conservation Authority, and three people from TAG. Chemtura and the MoE will attend.

The Technical Advisory Group is to be made up of no more than eight members. It will serve in an advisory capacity, and its meetings are to be technical in nature, with no public input, though they can’t be closed sessions.

“Since the purpose of this group will be to review ongoing technical reports, ask questions, identify problems, and make recommendations to RAC as appropriate, and while meetings cannot legally be held in private there would be no public forum/delegation component since RAC is the designated body for delegations,” reads the report to council.

In another concession to Chemtura, TAG will be led by an “independent, third-party chairperson.” The idea is to have someone who will keep meetings on topic without straying from the approved agenda.

David Brenneman, the township’s chief administrative officer, said that was deemed the best way “to move forward,” noting the chair would be paid, likely from new funding from the chemical company.

“It was thought that it would benefit the process to have someone that was concentrated on running the meetings, keeping procedure focused, keeping the agenda, etc. …”

A plan to move away from CPAC’s historical role as a citizens’ group raised some concerns for Coun. Patrick Merlihan, however.

“I wonder with the third-party chair if we’re turning a citizens’ committee … if we’re professionalizing it by hiring someone from outside to come in,” he said, noting to date the committee has largely involved citizens who have been looking out for the community’s interests.

Having made concessions to get Chemtura and the MoE back at the table, does the township have any guarantee they’ll stay? he asked.

“We can only hope that they will stay at the table based on the [new] structure,” said Brenneman. “We hope that everyone will see an efficient and effective process, a process that will be professional, be respectful and will be sticking to the point, which is how do we best ensure that the remediation and cleanup of the Elmira aquifer.”

“What the independent chair will do is focus more on the technical aspects of things, focus on facts, and will help to take some of the personal and emotional aspects out of the committee,” added Coun. Mark Bauman, noting that getting the format they asked for should encourage Chemtura representatives to continue attending meetings.

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