Wednesday, May 22, 2013
Today's posting deals with municipal interference in what is advertised as an independent citizens' committee. This interference is not restricted to just Woolwich but is a fact of life with all committees of council. Politicians at all levels do not delegate power and authority. They do however delegate work as well as blame. The purpose is to allow an arms length "independent" group of citizens to appear to be influencing and participating in all decisions. The reality is considerably different.
The purpose of today's overdue posting is multifold. One, paraphrasing my friend Richard Clausi, sometimes the watchdog has to do more than bark; he has to bite. I have been disrespected and insulted by Woolwich Council although two of the councillors were misinformed and misled by their colleagues. I have waited patiently for the Mayor to either make amends or to rectify his petty behaviour of two years ago. Instead he continues it as I indicated here a couple of Saturdays ago with the demand that I drop the Elmira Advocate before he'll agree to put me back on the Chemtura Public Advisory Committee (CPAC). The problem with a Mayor who has been described by a friend as not being a liar, simply someone who tells people what they want to hear; is if I was dumb enough to end the Advocate he would likely renege. His condition was told to two of his friends simply to keep them satisfied that he was amenable to my reinstatement.
Another purpose of my letting the cat out of the bag as to the extreme control the Mayor has attempted to exercise over CPAC is to let the public know how fragile the underpinnings of public consultation really are. Currently there is a request before CPAC to reexamine their Terms of Reference. I have written here before and have spoken to CPAC & SWAT (Soil, Water, Air, Technical) as recently as yesterday as to the nonsense that is in those TOR which fortunately has been ignored by both past and present councils and CPACs.
The third purpose is this: this current CPAC have proven themselves to be extremely resilient and extremely fair and balanced in their approach to various hostile and unfriendly forces. Whether it is in the manipulative, disrespectful and rude behaviour of Chemtura towards CPAC's Chair just before Christmas at a council meeting, or attempts at bullying by the mayor, this CPAC have soldiered on. Credit must go to their internal fortitude, self confidence and keeping their eye on the ball.
So what further horrible behaviour has our mayor induged in? Well after the resignation of Councillor Herteis as CPAC Chair back in the spring of 2011, Mayor Cowan appointed himself Chair. Overall he did a pretty good job at public CPAC meetings. He did however have two public outbursts with a CPAC member but she put him in his place both times and it looked good on him. Way to go Vivienne. Behind the scenes he fashioned himself to be a dictatorial tyrant. He brooked no disagreement from CPAC members and the final straw occurred last spring (2012) in a private meeting with them when he threatened to dismiss the entire committee. This did not go well for Mayor Cowan. CPAC were not cowed and went on the offense immediately. He was told in no uncertain terms as to what he was and what he was in for if he attempted such a disgusting stunt. Yours truly got involved and made a phone call to one Woolwich Councillor who did his due diligence. Keep in mind that Mayor Cowan had stated that he would be an interim CPAC Chair only, a year earlier. As a result he resigned as CPAC Chair and Councillor Bauman stepped in as the council representative on CPAC. It was a face saving device that solved CPAC's problem without publicly blowing up the mayor.
There is a moral in all of this. CPAC prevailed and are stronger and tougher. Woolwich Council, with or without all the dirty details, reacted properly. The mayor was removed (resigned???) and Dr. Dan Holt became the new Chair. Here is the irony in all of this. I am still glad that Mayor Cowan defeated Bill Strauss and Pat Mclean in the last election. At this point in time I still think I would support him for a second term depending on who he's running against. That being said he has feet of clay and I will not look the other way nor stay silent when he behaves badly. The public have a right to know and if he thinks otherwise then he'd better get out of politics.
Tuesday, May 21, 2013
Last Thursday's Elmira Independent carrys the following story "Woolwich to get tough on polluters". Although roadside dumping is a different type of illegal waste disposal then say chemical wastes, nevertheless it is indeed pollution. Woolwich Councillors discussed the problem and possible solutions at the May 7/13 council meeting. One suggestion while cleaning up was to look for correspondence with names on it. Then those names could be published. There was some back and forth on this including a program in Sudbury that sucessfully reduced roadside dumping after publication of names found on letters in the garbage. Councillor Bauman also suggested raising the fines from their current $125 amount. Township staff will look further at the matter and report back to council.
Monday, May 20, 2013
Last Saturday's Waterloo Region Record carrys a book review written by Jim Romahn. The title of the book review is "Pollution haunted New Jersey town" and the title of the book written by Dan Fagin is "Toms River: A Story of Science and Salvation". Toms River is a New Jersey town that had the swiss giant Ciba decide to build a dye manufacturing plant there in 1949. A little history is in order here. This is the same Ciba referred to as Ciba-Geigy who manufactured pesticides over in Cambridge. They claimed falsely that they had had a single spill of a chemical called Dinoseb on their property. Now known as Novartis they received all the help imaginable from our municipal and local politicians. Lies such as it would take over a century for the pollution to reach the municipal aquifers were given out to the public. It took closer to two years. Lies such as these chemicals could never reach nearby drinking wells were sold to the public by company representatives , M.O.E., and consultants alike.
For those of us living in Elmira does this sound familiar? "From the beginning it (Ciba) planned to dump wastes into the Toms River. It also dumped toxic wastes, some of it in drums, into sandy-soil pits on land it owned around its plant.". This is exactly the modus operandi of Uniroyal Chemical in Elmira. Firstly the Ontario Water Resources Commission (OWRC) and secondly the Ontario Ministry of the Environment were complicit in many of their pollution activities . Eventually with the Toms River case, Ciba and one other (Union Carbide) were found culpable in civil court and paid out undisclosed sums of money to families whose children developed cancers. Here in Elmira requests/demands for a health study of residents have been denied by local authorities.
I have but one criticism of Jim Romahn's book review. Mr. Romahn states "What becomes clear as the lengthy story is told is that there are probably hundreds of other cases around the world where industrial pollution has sickened nearby residents - and nobody has called the polluters to account.". Mr. Romahn understates his case. Far more likely is there are thousands of other cases around the United States alone where people have been poisoned by industrial pollution and the guilty walked away. Look around Waterloo Region or anywhere that has had significant long term industrial activity. Kitchener-Waterloo and Cambridge have multiple cases of major pollution with little or no accountability. The health effects in the Bishop St. community of Cambridge are horrific and meanwhile the polluter (Northstar) has gone bankrupt while the Directors are currently trying to absolve themselves of liability.
Saturday, May 18, 2013
Last Thursday's Elmira Independent has an article titled "Grants available to farmers for environmental projects". The Grand River Conservation Authority (GRCA) administers the Rural Water Quality Program which gives funds out for projects which qualify. These projects include planting trees along watercourses, providing shade and windbreaks etc.. Also projects installing fences along watercourses to keep cattle out will qualify. Improvements in manure storage and milkhouse waste treatment are alos qualifying projects.
The contact person at the GRCA to apply for these grants is Anne Loffler at email@example.com .The grants vary from 50-100% of the costs depending on the specifics of the project. This is a voluntary program which has been in place since 1998 and is a benefit to the environment.
Friday, May 17, 2013
Yesterday's Elmira Independent has an Editorial by Gail Martin, titled "Chasing money". The focus of the Editorial, of course, is the proposal for an OLG casino, whether in Woolwich or elsewhere in the Region. My interpretation of Gail's attitude towards Mayor Cowan as expressed in this Editorial, would be one of disappointment. Gail states "During the 2010 municipal election campaign, Cowan was one of the candidates who responded to concerns raised by area residents about proposed gravel pits, as well as the Woolwich Bio-En biogas plant. His campaign was almost entirely based on responding to the wishes of residents who were in opposition to these developments.". Gail then goes on to compare this before election behaviour with what he and council are doing today with the casino situation.
In my opinion currently our Mayor has zero support from either of our two local papers. I don't believe that the Independent and Woolwich Observer are often on the same page with local issues but they sure are in regards to our mayor. Whether Editorials, cartoons or articles the Observer have made their disappointment obvious. To my not politically astute mind this does not bode well for his re-election chances. At the same time I noticed that Gail pointedly mentioned that Councillor Mark Bauman was at odds with council over the casino matter. Hmm! Interesting. Again to my not so politically astute mind I think it is past time for our young mayor to start mending fences. I am still conflicted on the matter as I believe he has properly given both Chemtura and the Ontario Ministry of the Environment long overdue kicks in the behind. If he continues his support for a real cleanup of the Elmira Aquifers and of the citizen volunteers on CPAC then he will keep my support. If he falters there or with the proposed gravel pits in Conestogo and West Montrose then he will lose me.
Thursday, May 16, 2013
Dr. Dan Holt, Chair of CPAC (Chemtura Public Advisory Committee) wrote a 3 1/2 page dissenting opinion in February 2013 dealing with Chemtura's "sucessful" recent verification by the team representing the community as well as the CIAC (Chemical Inndustry Assoc'n of Canada). I have the word "sucessful" above in quotation marks because I don't want anyone to ever forget that this was a "do over" verification. Chemtura had FAILED the verification; that decision had been communicated to and by the verification team members. What went on between the CIAC abd Chemtura immediately after that, which resulted in another go at it, can only be speculated upon.
I am going to quote verbatim only one small part of Dan's dissenting opinion on his third page namely
" On page 3 of the Responsible Care manual is a listing of the "Responsible Care Ethic & Principles for Sustainability" and the fifth bullet down syates that a company should ...engage with our business partners to ensure the stewardship and security of our products, services and raw materials throughout their life-cycles
I believe that the term "cradle to grave" is used in describing the responsibility of the company for the products they create and manufacture. There are still sources of contamination on the Chemtura property yet the company continues to refuse to properly dispose of them.
I am, along with others, spending volunteer time to work with Chemtura to clean up the mess that both the current employees and community residents have inherited from a time when common practices contaminated our soil, water, and air. Many hurdles have been overcome and life in Elmira today is far better than it was just a few years ago in relation to living in a town with chemical companies. But there are more hurdles to get past. Responsible Care is to be applauded because it has evolved from a public relations effort to encompass a more complete concern for the chemical industry and the communities in which they exist. To that I would suggest that it is still a problem for the industry itself to avoid being judged as a whole by the experiences communities have on a daily basis with one member company. There are vast differences in the way chemical companies interact with communities and to endorse one that is not living up to the standards aspired to by the Responsible Care mandate is to significantly detract from those which do live up to that standard of excellence. There is no way around the fact that verification of a Responsible care company is considered by the public as an endorsement of that company and puts it on an equal basis with all other Responsible Care companies.
The opinions I state in this dissenting vote are mine and are based on the many days I spent touring the facilities at both Elmira and West Hill in July 2011, the teleconference calls with other team members, and the meetings in person in both December, 2012 and February 2013 at the Chemtura plant. But as the Chair of the Chemtura Public Advisory Committee, which is a committee of the Woolwich Township Council and represents the residents of Elmira, I cannot ignore the expressed opinions of those whom I represent in casting this negative vote. To do so would be disrespecting them."
The above is a snapshot into an excellent dissenting opinion written by Dr. Dan Holt. It is honest, specific and from the heart. Chemtura in my opinion did not honestly achieve *Responsible Care verification. Why do I so doubt that they will honestly attempt to live up to its' standards?
Wednesday, May 15, 2013
There was an article in the Waterloo Region Record back on April 6, 2013 which I found interesting and surprising. It was titled "Kitchener councillors tussle over bid to take part in environmental assessments". I know that I've often had the belief that municipal councillors are responsible for everything as they are "in the loop" and all reports and data presumably are sent to them. Maybe not so! This article has two major issues the one being a process issue as to whether a councillor can vote one way, hear the final result and then ask for a "do over", change his vote and get a different result.
The second issue was raised by Councillors Janecki and Fernandes. They feel that municipal environmental assessments for things like roads and bridges should be open at the earliest stages for at the very least the ward councillors to attend. That way those councillors can raise issues that their constituents may have brought to them regarding a new project. Apparently this is indeed common practice at the Region of Waterloo as well as for both the city of Cambridge and of Waterloo. Surprisingly the majority of Kitchener councillors voted against this idea, at least on the second attempt that is. Personally I fail to see how Kitchener councillors could make that kind of a decision. Why on earth wouldn't the process be open and available to the elected representatives of the local community that will be affected by the project? That would appear to be only democratic.