Adams mine may have slipped from Toronto's nightly news consciousness a few years ago, but that hasn't stopped some strange goings on at the proposed Kirkland Lake trash site. Just recently, despite pious Liberal campaign promises, the enviro ministry issued draft permits to allow dump proponent Gordon McGuinty to drain water from the mine to prep it for waste disposal. It's a scary omen, green activists agree. But the reality is you'd need an oracle to figure out whether the Libs are trying to outmanoeuvre garbage-hauling proponents or actually caving in to business pressure. It certainly didn't get any clearer when concerned native, farm and community leaders from the region met with Environment Minister Leona Dombrowsky on Tuesday, December 2. They were hoping for a firm commitment to scrap the controversial garbage proposal once and for all. They didn't get it.
The group presented the minister with what it calls new evidence bringing into question a 1999 decision by the Ministry of the Environment (MoE) to issue a certificate of approval for a garbage dump at the site. The new research was given to the minister by Ken Howard, a lead scientific adviser to the Walkerton Inquiry and an expert hired by the Temagami Federation of Agriculture. Howard has termed the MoE's 99 findings "seriously flawed" junk science.
Despite the premier's recent public pledge to reopen the original environmental assessment (EA), Dombrowsky wasn't making any promises. Just getting into the room with her was an ordeal. The minister had put off the one-and-a-half-hour meeting several times, and only scheduled it after concerned groups threatened to block Hwy 11 in protest on the day of the Throne Speech.
Activists leapt into action following news that the ministry is considering a permit to drain water at the mine, but Dombrowski strangely kept the topic off-limits at the tête-à-tête.
Still, there's hope among dump opponents that the minister played a small role in the matter and was in fact being undermined by her own bureaucracy. After all, Dombrowsky (MPP for Hastings-Frontenac-Lennox and Addington) had brought three bills forward opposing permits to drain water from lakes on her home turf.
"I'm sure she was kept out of the loop by bureaucrats when this happened," says Terry Graves, an Adams Mine activist.
Spokespeople for the MoE seem to be doing everything in their power to ensure that the blame falls far from the new minister's feet, saying that technocrats were just following procedures when they issued a draft permit to drain the site.
"(The minister) cannot get involved in a permit-to-take-water application, because that's been delegated to the director (of the water policy branch)," says John Steele, an MoE spokesperson transferred to Dombrowsky's office to handle her PR tangle.
Howard, the Walkerton expert, says that alone is cause for concern. "Isn't that a worrying thought? The people we elected to do the job have no control over what their people are doing."
Even more unsettling is Howard's review of the original environmental assessment approving a dump for the mine in the first place.
Howard says the director who signed off on that EA had "no qualms about making a crucial decision based on the findings of two seriously flawed models that his scientific advisers should have rejected."
Temiskaming-area MPP and Minister of Natural Resources David Ramsay had promised an all-candidates meeting that he would resign if the dump went ahead. He assures NOW that "the government is still committed to doing a review of the environmental assessment and is having discussions about how to move on that."
Other dump opponents point out that the minister can put an end to any talk of a dump at Adams Mine right now - if she wants to, that is.
"The minister can intervene and suspend the (1999) certificate of approval," says Charlie Angus, a researcher with the Temiskaming First Nation. He points out that there's 30 to 40 million tonnes of capacity in other dumps across the province if needed.
NDP environment critic Marilyn Churley says there's already ample scientific evidence that "(the dump) should be just killed. Toronto's already said it doesn't want to send its garbage there."
Toronto councillor Michael Walker recently revived a motion to again go on record rejecting Adams Mine as a current or future option for dumping municipal waste.
With all the permutations that have already gone down on this issue, one can never be too sure.