Hello, bonjour, and welcome to Local First. I'm Candice Vetter and today I'm reporting on the ongoing controversy with the 417 Industrial Park in Russell Township. This is the first part of a series and today's focus is on consultation.
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The current industrial park is south of Highway 417 near Vars and west of St-Guillaume Road. In recent years it has grown extensively with the blessing of the majority of past and current councillors. However, the people living four kilometres away say they never expected to have factories right up against their rural residential properties, and that is what is now planned.
The residents of Eadie and Burton roads say they were not consulted directly about proposed changes to the prime agricultural land behind their homes and farms, or consulted about the changed designation of the farmland nearby. Even three landowners whose properties were recently revealed to be "future industrial lands" were never consulted.
Neither were some of the business owners in the existing industrial park, other than hearing suggestions over about a decade that they may have to pony up tens of thousands of dollars to pay for water and sewer services. The industrial park is not serviced and most business owners there have already incurred significant costs when installing individual wells, septic systems, and water storage for fire suppression.
Residents argue the plan has not been adequately published and there has been neither signage nor notification to adjacent landowners.
Residents found out about the plan when survey stakes appeared in the field between two of the township's oldest historic homes. When one of the homeowners, Rhonda Bradley, asked the Township office what was going on she learned that a new road was planned a few metres from her house because the industrial park would be extended right to residents' backyards.
That was the first they heard that their municipal government planned to surround their homes and rural properties with heavy industry. About 40 people attended a council meeting on May 16. That is where they first saw a map, which had not been officially released, which outraged them.
More shocks came when both the Township and upper tier county, the United Counties of Prescott and Russell, claimed the residents had been adequately consulted. Both Russell Township Mayor Pierre Leroux and Senior Township Planner Dominique Tremblay said it was because earlier environmental assessments regarding servicing the industrial park had been discussed at Council and because of the UCPR's changes to its Official Plan. When CJRO questioned Louis Prevost of the UCPR he said a notice that the official plan for the entire county, which is about 2000 square kilometres, had been advertised on the county's website and once in a local newspaper. However no advertisement mentioned expanding the industrial park.
On the Township of Russell website the suggested new plan has not been published. In fact the website still shows a much earlier plan, showing the industrial park's boundary is about 1.5 kilometres east of Eadie Road, not up against it.
To add to the confusion six different maps have been produced, none of which is advertised.
Dan Faughnan, who was CAO of the township in May, but has since left, promised more transparency going forward, but residents are worried that it is now too late.
Transparency in government is often disputed. Michael Wernick, Jarislowly Chair at the University of Ottawa told CJRO he thinks it is paramount.
Since the May council meeting Bradley and a few other residents along her road have asked numerous questions of the Township, the UCPR, the Auditor General for Ontario, the Ministry of Municipal Affairs and Housing, the MPP for the area, the MP for the area, and the Ministry of Environment Conservation and Parks.
The Ministry of Environment Conservation and Parks agreed with Bradley. The letter said, "...it was determined that, due to a misinterpretation of the Municipal Class Environmental Assessment (MCEA), the Township did not comply with the requirements of the MCEA with respect to consultation. This is because it was determined that the Township did not consult with all potentially affected members of the public, including immediately adjacent landowners. The ministry has therefore advised the Township of Russell that, prior to moving forward with the servicing of the Highway 417 Industrial Park, any applicable requirements under the Environmental Assessment Act for project must be met...Until the requirements of the MCEA have been addressed, the project described in the completed MCEA and addendum may not proceed to implementation."
When asked for a response to the MECP's letter, Tremblay said it was now irrelevant because the Township had already decided not to service the park.
There has been a business case report done by Hemson, and two EAs done, one by WSP in 2019, and one an addendum by TYLin. A design consultant was paid $1.7 million to draw out a design of the future park, but at no time in any of these processes were the residents consulted. In fact, one report said the consultant had done a "windshield review." CJRO asked the author of the report, Nadia De Santi, to explain that and was told by email to consult Tremblay.
In the fall the farmers and residential property owners asked for a meeting with Richard Godin, new CAO of Russell Township, replacing Dan Faughnan. Godin was previously the Director of Corporate Services. A virtual meeting was held on October 30. Godin, Sylvain Boudreault, who is the new Senior Planner replacing Dominique Tremblay, Executive Director of Infrastructure Jonathan Bourgon, Clerk Vanessa Carrier, and about 20 residents attended the meeting.
The latest map revealed in October, 2023.
At this virtual meeting, which no councillors attended, the residents were told that a berm would separate their properties from the industrial properties. The homes are on the highest land around, and the industrial park is mostly lower down and would be climbing the hill, so the industrial area would still fill their view. One of the reasons people live there is because of the beautiful view, which would be lost.
Residents noted that a berm also doesn't protect against lights, noise, pollutants, emissions, truck traffic, pollution of groundwater, or weed seeds from the berm entering neigbouring fields.
Also, the Province of Ontario classifies homes and farms as incompatible uses with industry.
CAO Godin said numerous times that he felt for the residents, but he made no promises to set aside or reduce the industrial footprint.
Residents made numerous points and were generally unsatisfied with the answers they received. They asked about the effects of industry taking up more than double the land it currently covers, and about the Township's plan to put a brand new truck road between two houses in what is now a field. One of the those homes was built in 1840 and a resident noted that an old house has less protection against noise and that headlights will come directly into the bedrooms, living room and kitchen.
Residents also told Township reps that the original Hemson Consulting report had errors, which later reports copied. Those errors included characterizing homes, active farms and businesses as vacant.
The residents asked about traffic mitigation, and were particularly concerned about the loss of Class 1 farmland, an ongoing concern in the Township which has seen the highest farmland losses in the UCPR.
Residents asked about how their wells could be affected, about the hydrology, hydrogeology, geology, biology, botany, archaeology, and about local volunteer fire departments' plans in case of fire. J.D. Gauthier, a former planner himself and the maintenance coordinator for the Ottawa Fire Department said industrial fires require foam, and foam in the ground will contaminate the groundwater their wells depend on.
In each case the answer was that a study would be done in the future.
Although none of the required studies has been done the Township staff were insistent that the expansion would go ahead, regardless of residents' objections.
When pushed on the point about lack of consultation Godin said that's why they were having the virtual meeting now, to which one resident, Dave Skinner, who both lives in and has a business in the Township, said, "You're a day late and a dollar short... You should have had this meeting years ago."
Skinner also said community consultation needs a review process that should be directly consulting affected residents.
Godin assured residents that a report would be going to Council and their concerns would be added.
That report is going to be submitted by Godin to Russell Council on Monday, November 27. CJRO has seen an advance copy. A handful of the residents' many issues are mentioned.
Regarding properties considered vacant, the staff admitted that the Business Plan prepared by Hemson Consulting in 2020 about the feasibility of bringing water and sewer services to the industrial park (not about expansion) implied several properties west of the existing industrial park were vacant.
In spite of the perceived lack of accuracy of Hemson's report, all later reports, including WSP's, relied on it. CJRO twice requested interviews with the author of the WSP report, Di Santi, but was directed to speak to Tremblay at the Township. Tremblay is currently away. In her place is Sylvain Boudreault, who said he was not around when these plans first unfolded.
Regarding mitigation of noise, pollution and lights the staff report's proposed solution was still a small buffer zone and a berm. Most houses on Eadie are built towards the back of their property lines, meaning the back walls of their homes would be about 23 metres (25 yards) from factories, some of which may run 24 hours a day.
Regarding industrial traffic the staff report said a traffic study will be done, but there is no indication that they would back down on road building.
Regarding the adoption of the expansion plan before the municipal official plan has been adopted (the Township's) they said this policy is independent of the official plan. It is the upper county's official plan, which is a separate document, that is frequently quoted as being the reason for the redesignation of agricultural lands to trade and industry. The upper county's official plan is characterized as impossible to dispute or change.
CJRO will report further on this controversy after the Council meeting on Monday night.