Thirty-year fight to stop landfill continues
The farming community of Tiny Township in Ontario is home to something entirely unique — a series of bubbling artesian wells that contain some of the cleanest and most abundant fresh water on the planet.
The water in the Alliston aquifer is so pure that it equates to Arctic ice core samples taken from snows deposited 10,000 years ago, before the advent of modern industry and its resulting pollution.
But a proposed landfill, Dump Site 41, is slated to be built smack on top of the Alliston aquifer, and if it goes ahead the residents of Tiny Township are worried that this precious resource will be destroyed forever.
A rally outside the Ontario legislature last Friday was part of the ongoing fight to stop Site 41 — a fight that started 30 years ago. The fight continues despite the approval of the landfill by the Ontario government and despite a 16-15 vote in favour of it by the County of Simcoe.
“We don't need the dump, it's not necessary, and it's the worst place you could ever build a dump in the County of Simcoe,” says Stephen Ogden, a member of the Site 41 Community Monitoring Committee.
As part of the Queen's Park rally, Ogden and Mohawk elder and environmentalist Danny Beaton undertook a five-day 120-kilometre “walk for water” from Tiny Township to Toronto. They want the provincial government to stop the landfill and hope to convince county councillors to overturn their “razor-thin” decision.
Dr. William Shotyk, a geochemistry professor at the University of Heidelberg in Germany, has called water from the Alliston aquifer “the best water on earth.” Shotyk, whose family owns property near Tiny Township, came to that conclusion after testing the water in a sophisticated laboratory he runs at the university to analyze contaminants in prehistoric ice.
There are many shallow aquifers connected to Alliston aquifer, and opponents of the dump fear that a synthetic liner intended to prevent leakage will not be entirely effective, resulting in the contamination of surrounding water. The upward motion of the water is also supposed to help prohibit leakage.
Initially, the proposal for a landfill in that spot was rejected after a 70-day environmental assessment hearing back in 1989. However, the government intervened and through an Order in Council overturned that decision.
A permit is needed to remove such a large amount of water, and right now this is the only thing stopping the site from going ahead. The permit is currently being reviewed by the Ontario Ministry of Environment (MOE), says spokesperson Kate Jordan.
“We want to assure the residents that we won't issue a permit until more experts are confident that the proposal is scientifically sound and that the site will be operated in an environmentally responsible way that will ensure the protection of the surrounding watershed.”
Jordan says that while MOE is aware of Shotyk's studies and of the opposition to Site 41, the landfill was approved because the ministry was satisfied that it would be built in a way that would not damage the environment.
“The approval that we gave set out conditions to ensure that the landfill would be constructed using state of the art engineering techniques so that the groundwater would be protected as well as the surface water to ensure that there is no impact on drinking water,” says Jordan.
While Simcoe County maintains current landfill capacity for the region is only seven to eight years, Progressive Conservative MPP Garfield Dunlop says there's about “35 years of capacity in other areas of the county” and therefore Site 41 is not necessary.
A former county councillor, Dunlop says he was in favour of the project until the Walkerton tragedy, when six people died from contaminated water — and until he actually went and visited the proposed site.
“I went there and the water was actually bubbling out of the ground. We were just told by the ministry staff that it was a good site for a dump and we never really objected to it. But since Walkerton when people died it's time to start paying a lot more attention.”
There's a precedent in place for pulling out of the project, says Dunlop, citing the Adams Mine in northern Ontario which was also earmarked for a landfill.
“Legislation was put through for that and all the approvals were in place and the government did a complete reversal and it was because water seeped into the bottom and created a lake of about a hectare in size.”
The Adams Mine Lake Act was subsequently passed which prevents any lake more than one hectare in size from being used as a landfill. Tiny Township residents believe this applies to Site 41, because once the hole for the dump is dug it will fill up to more than a hectare if it isn't continuously pumped out.
Ogden believes building yet another dump is the wrong way to go when Ontario Environment Minister John Garretson is promoting zero waste for the province, and with zero waste initiatives catching on in many countries.
“We just need to change the way we do things,” he says.
The ministry will “closely monitor” construction and operations at the site, Jordan says, adding that there's a condition in the agreement that the county has to fund an environmental inspector. But these reassurances are not enough, says Ogden.
“They're trying to convince us it will be safe, but I don't think so. You can imagine how we all feel. We have this beautiful farm land, and we're risking this incredibly pure water and we don't have to.”