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Great Lakes Article:

Ontario could halt plans for quarry, power plant
By Martin Mittelstaedt
Globe and Mail
04/07/04



Ontario Environment Minister Leona Dombrowsky is considering ordering environmental assessments on two controversial proposals -- a quarry on Lake Superior and a power plant in Thunder Bay -- moves that could signal an aggressive approach to environmental regulation by the Liberal government.

The province has been reluctant to order assessments on private companies' development proposals, other than for garbage dumps and hazardous-waste facilities. Staff at the Ministry of Environment were unable to find cases of a minister ordering an assessment of a private-sector project, other than that of a small hydroelectric station in the 1980s.

"Outside of the waste-management context, it has been extremely rare to non-existent, so this is why these would be significant precedents," Richard Lindgren, a lawyer with the Canadian Environmental Law Association, said of the assessments.

The Ministry of Environment filed notices late last week on its Internet site that it is reviewing the two projects. Proposals killed this week, such as a waste-disposal site at the Adams Mine in Northern Ontario, have prompted extensive controversy.

A quarry is proposed for a site near Wawa, about 225 kilometres northwest of Sault Ste. Marie, along one of the most scenic and undeveloped stretches of the Lake Superior coastline. It would be the first quarry subjected to an environmental assessment in Ontario, according to the ministry.

The plan for the Thunder Bay power plant to use coal-like residues from Alberta's oil sands as fuel to produce electricity has prompted pollution concerns.

Under the ministry's procedures, the public has 30 days to comment on whether the projects should be subjected to assessments, after which Ms. Dombrowsky will issue the decisions.

Ontario governments have been reluctant to expand environmental assessments to the private sector because companies frequently oppose them. Assessments can take years, are costly and can doom projects found to be too damaging.

Ontario assessment law applies mainly to provincial- and municipal-government projects, and to private-sector waste-handling proposals. Environment ministers have the option, but not the obligation, to use the law on private business ventures.

Environment lawyer Dianne Saxe said the previous government was reluctant to order assessments, but she believes Ms. Dombrowsky is more open to them.

"There is no doubt that this minister has a very different approach to environmental assessments than anything we've seen in the last eight years," Ms. Saxe said.

The quarry is proposed by Superior Aggregates Ltd., a company owned by Carlo Companies, a U.S. road-building contractor. Under the proposal, rock would be blasted from hills along the Lake Superior shore and shipped by water to markets in the United States and Canada.

Ms. Dombrowsky's office has received hundreds of letters from those who support the quarry and from those who want it killed, according to the government.

The quarry would create about 20 seasonal jobs in the economically depressed area, but it has raised concerns that it would hurt ecotourism operators marketing this area of Lake Superior as unspoiled wilderness.

A spokesman for Superior Aggregates said the company is awaiting the minister's decision.

The Thunder Bay power plant is being proposed by SynFuel Technologies Inc., which wants to build a 199-megawatt power plant, enough to supply the peak power needs of about 65,000 homes.

Company president Robert Van Patten said SynFuel was surprised that it is being considered for an assessment. It is seeking clarifications on environmental regulations from the province.

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