Changes could neuter the watchdog group monitoring a contaminated Elmira chemical site, current members warned this week, but Woolwich council pressed ahead with plans to dissolve the Chemtura Public Advisory Committee (CPAC).
In its place will be two new bodies – the Remediation Advisory Committee (RAC) and a Technical Advisory Group (TAG) – that will provide much less public input and oversight of Chemtura’s remediation of polluted groundwater and ongoing concerns of continued contamination.
There’s a different priority, however, as the move spearheaded by Mayor Sandy Shantz aims to bring back to the table the Ministry of the Environment and Chemtura, both of which have been skipping CPAC meetings since last fall.
Council’s decision Tuesday night jeopardizes the public oversight of cleanup efforts, warns current CPAC chair Dan Holt.
“I am saddened that this public advisory committee, which has not been under company rule, has finally been brought under the control of the company it is supposed to oversee. The new structure of this committee will take the public out of the picture, allow the contamination to continue to flow offsite, the aquifer to stay contaminated, and make a mockery of the protection that the environment and people are supposed to enjoy under the auspices of the government,” he predicted. “I sincerely hope that I am wrong about all of this, but am afraid I am not.”
Holt was not alone in that assessment, as other members of CPAC weighed in.
“How will this lead to action for clean drinking water?” asked Vivienne Delaney of council’s changes to CPAC.
She noted there are concerns about persistent organic pollutants – known as POPs – continuing to leach from the site, specifically DDT, dioxins and furans. Will the new groups press Chemtura and the MoE, which has done little, to act on the concerns?
“I would urge you to think carefully and critically before approving any motions regarding the dissolution of CPAC,” said Graham Chevreau, taking issue with the outcome of an April 9 meeting arranged by Shantz to find out what it would take to get Chemtura and the ministry to resume attending meetings.
“The meeting notes of the April 9 meeting identified approximately 20 roadblocks to the process of remediation of the Chemtura site. Surprising to me, 13 of these 20 were attributed to CPAC,” he said.
“Simply put, the report … has essentially identified CPAC as the major roadblock to the cleanup of this site.”
He dismissed that assertion, noting that no one from CPAC attended what was billed as a gathering of stakeholders because only one representative was invited to what was not a public meeting.
For CPAC member Sebastian Siebel-Achenbach, the changes proposed by the township appear to hinge on personalities, not the issues that the ministry and Chemtura won’t address.
“Much of the driving motivation for the coming change appears to us to be about personalities. Specifically, CPAC’s association with Mr. Alan Marshall has raised hackles. The hostilities go back over a decade and have festered,” he explained. “We understand the urge to retaliate, but want this council to consider that this is ancillary to the true purpose of monitoring and compelling Chemtura to abide by its commitments.
“In short, Alan’s transgressions are a red herring which allows the real culprits to escape closer scrutiny.”
Councillors were not swayed, however, voting to dissolve CPAC when its current term ends on August 31 in favour of the two new groups.
“This is not a condemnation of CPAC,” said Coun. Patrick Merlihan. “I’m willing to give this a try.”
He voted for the format change despite reservations about a lack of public representation – a “professionalizing” of the oversight committee. RAC, in particular, with be dominated by paid employees and bureaucrats: 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.
“I would still like the feel of this being a citizens’ committee,” said Merlihan, calling the lack of public representation “cringeworthy.”
In support of more public input, Coun. Mark Bauman pushed for a change to technical group’s terms of reference to allow for written submissions from the public, though the body will not allow delegates or public input at meetings.
The township will be taking applications for volunteers looking to serve on the new bodies, and will consider the bids of those current CPAC members who already submitted applications in advance of the next term if they’d like their names to stand given the changes.