Dam issue dominates council meeting

FORT FRANCES—With the town’s committee of adjustment having approved applications from Abitibi-Consolidated to sever its dam property here from the rest of the mill with the aim to start a separate hydro-generating asset, local unions made a plea at Monday night’s council meeting to stop the process and take more time to study the issue.
But it was revealed that council cannot, under the Planning Act, overturn a judgment made by the committee of adjustment, and will have to represent the town’s best interests when the union’s appeal of the property severance goes to a Ontario Municipal Board hearing at a yet-to-be-determined date.
“The committee of adjustment made a decision,” Mayor Dan Onichuk said after Monday night’s meeting.
“It’s been suggested they made that decision without a lot of the information. I think there’s some fact in that,” he added.
“Having said that, that authority is delegated to the committee of adjustment. We do not have a right to say you can’t do that or you can do that.
“We have a right to go the Ontario Municipal Board,” the mayor noted.
“We are the town, we will be represented there, and make our feelings on that decision known—very similar to the CEP local unions have done, they’ll be making their position known,” continued Mayor Onichuk.
“There’s more information we’re waiting on, there’s lawyers working on things for us,” he stressed.
The matter of the property severance goes back to June, when Abitibi made 11 applications for consent to the town’s committee of adjustment. This was advertised in the June 30 edition of the Daily Bulletin.
While applications covered various aspects of the properties (such as easements in perpetuity for the purposes of maintenance, or ingress/egress and access to certain properties), in simplest terms, “the purpose of all the applications, in one way or another, were to separate the mill’s power-generating assets from the pulp and paper assets,” municipal planner Faye Flatt said in an interview Monday afternoon.
These 11 applications went before the Committee of Adjustment on July 17, at which time the committee approved them all.
This then was followed by a 20-day appeal period, during which time an appeal was filed by Toronto law firm Caley Wray, representing appellant Allan T. Bedard with the support of the Communications Energy and Paperworkers Union of Canada.
The applications and appeal is being sent to the Ontario Municipal Board, said Flatt. Once the OMB receives everything, it will set a hearing date.
Mayor Onichuk said it is crucial that the town, Abitibi, and the unions have a meeting prior to this hearing and discuss issues such as the land severance, the proposed power company, and, just as importantly, the “hog fuel” boiler.
Union reps stressed their case at length at Monday night’s council meeting, and sent the message to council that they felt Abitibi having a hydro-generation company here could have dire consequences for the pulp and paper mill.
Bedard, recording secretary for CEP 92, said the local unions have many concerns over the land severance and the proposed power company being set up here.
For instance, if the new power company sells the energy to the paper mill at market prices, it will make the mill non-viable, cause it lose money, and eventually close—meaning the loss of hundreds of high-paying jobs.
If the mill is shut down, the town then loses a significant portion of its tax base.
“The municipal infrastructure and way of life in Fort Frances would be in severe jeopardy if it shut down,” warned Bedard.
He also felt the 1905 power agreement could be jeopardized if a separate power company was set up, noting the dam as built with the sustainability of the mill and the community in mind.
Bedard also reminded council has a commitment to the people of Fort Frances to act in their best interests.
In response to Mayor Onichuk’s call for a meeting between the town, Abitibi, and the unions, Bedard said, “We’re prepared to work with you.”
Other speakers at Monday night’s meeting included CEP 306 vice-president Kevin Watts, CEP 92 president Thorrot Cox, IBEW 1744 president Dwayne Sletmoen, IAM 771 president Herman Pruys, and CEP 92 vice-president Bruce Wreggitt.
In related news, council passed a motion to file an intervention with Abitibi’s application to the Ontario Energy Board to split off its hydro-electric generation assets into a subsidiary.
“That is to make sure that there we protect the rights of the citizens, of the residents of Fort Frances, as it relates to the power agreement, and we will do that,” said Mayor Onichuk.
“If there is a broader issue, as it relates to economic development, I’m sure the energy board is going to listen to that.
“We’re making that application, and we will do everything we can to protect the interests of everybody—people that work in the mill, the company, the residents of Fort Frances, everybody,” he vowed.
Abitibi reported back in mid-July that it had applied to the Ontario Energy Board to split off its hydro-electric generation assets into a subsidiary.
Also at Monday night’s meeting, council:
•defeated a recommendation from the Administration and Finance executive committee to waive landfill fees for Glenn Witherspoon;
•approved a financial request from the Northwestern Ontario Sports Hall of Fame and Museum regarding advertising for the 25th-annual induction dinner souvenir program (the town will pay $200 for a half-page ad to congratulate “Huffer” Christiansen on his induction);
•referred a financial request from the City of International Falls for support of the Business, Economic Security, Trade and Tourism (BESTT) Coalition to the Administration and Finance executive committee for its recommendation;
•referred a memo from municipal planner Faye Flatt regarding Ron Campbell (minor variance A11/2006) to the Planning and Development executive committee for its recommendation;
•passed a bylaw to designate Lots 95-97, Plan M-94 (611 and 613 First St. E.) as per the Planning Act, 1990; and
•heard a verbal update from Mayor Onichuk on the Association of Municipalities of Ontario conference (Aug. 13-16).
(Fort Frances Daily Bulletin)