As of its monthly council meeting on April 3, Franklin has banned the dumping of any kind of fill on its entire territory. This comes after years of recent legal and former illegal documented toxic waste dumping on the Rock, the area along the 201 belonging to Franklin. It also indicates the serious repercussions that have followed a recent dumping permit issued by Franklin to the owner of a Rang Dumas property, where Ormstown has two municipal wells.
During the meeting, a notice of motion was presented to amend the zoning bylaw 272 to better control backfill activities within the municipality. The notice suggests the amendments will require soil analyses before and during backfill operations, depending on the extent of the work as well as the quantity and volume of fill. Changes could also include control measures to determine periods during which backfill work may be carried out.
Franklin director general Simon St-Michel says that while the freeze on dumping is in place the municipality will not be granting permits, except for immediate residential construction projects. “In two months, we will pass a new bylaw. At that time, we will be proposing new regulations on the matter,” says St-Michel, who notes the introduction of the bylaw will be followed by several rounds of votes and will involve several steps before it comes fully into effect.
He says the changes they hope to introduce are now in the hands of their legal advisors. “We want to adopt our laws to make the water safer in Franklin, to make sure the quality of any fill is perfect,” he says. “There will be strict rules for all owners including non-farmers. There is no specification of zone about this dumping freeze.” St-Michel adds, “This should have been done years ago. It’s time to modify the existing rules.”
However, just this spring, well after the Rang Dumas dumping, Franklin granted another dumping permit on the same aquifer recharge area of the 201, less than two kilometres from the contaminated Jodoin site. When asked why the municipality would give a dumping permit to 3525 Route 201, given the sensitivity of the area and the risk of responsibility, St-Michel answered, “Everything was valid, conformed to the rules, and was legal, signed by a professional geologist. If the permit is requested and they respect the rules, we have the obligation to give the permit; that’s why we need new rules.”
Douglas Brooks, an ex-mayor of Franklin who has been watching the dumping situation closely for the past five years, says that “Any municipal council has the right to deny a permit at any time; you don’t have to issue them, you are allowed to postpone, you are allowed to wait. There’s no room for error; it only takes a few loads of contaminated waste to put people at risk.”
Brooks says that in the context of the new site on the 201, water protection is legally “entirely a provincial responsibility, so that’s what towns need to do: put it in their hands right away, not take a chance on issuing a permit, especially given recent history in the area.”
The aquifer recharge area on the 201, which extends to the Rang Dumas and other areas of the MRC and which McGill University is currently studying, has been the subject of several stories in The Gleaner, especially on the proven contamination at the Jodoin site. The complex testing done by Ormstown on the Rang Dumas site, to ascertain whether the material certified as safe by Franklin was acceptable, revealed that dangerous levels of toxins have been dumped there and pose a danger to local wells. Expensive work to remove the toxic fill on the 201 is supposed to finally begin this spring. The same kind of removal work for the 17,000 tonnes of fill on the smaller Rang Dumas dump site has been recommended to begin as quickly as possible, to protect Ormstown’s two wells there which provide water to a third of its population.
It isn’t just Ormstown wells at risk; the projected plume of contamination estimated by the testing company, Enviro’Eau Puits, extends north and west down to the Grimshaw Road, and very close to Franklin and Saint-Antoine-Abbé’s wells as well as many private ones. The leaching down to well levels will take time; that’s why the material needs to be rapidly removed. Enviro’Eau has also recommended digging two test wells at specific areas on that dump site, so that Ormstown can monitor the rate of descent of these materials towards its water supply. How fast that happens depends on many factors, including weather.
A big question is: who will pay for all this testing and waste removal? Ordinarily, it should be the property owners who accept the fill, then the province – which has taken so long to respond that the aquifer recharge area is now in crisis. Property owners are on the hook, of course, but they can argue in court that they had no idea the fill they were offered was dangerous, and this holds up the remediation process. As well, they are usually unlikely to have the funds to pay for full removal. This leaves the taxpayer, provincially or locally. If permits have been given according to tests that are insufficient to the situation, even if done by a municipality in good faith, that municipality could also be on the hook. Brooks says, “For sure the possibility exists it’s all going to work back to the town. Until the province has full traceability in place, after deposition, soil and water testing, to validate the dumpers’ or the owners’ paperwork, it’s safer to deny a permit.”