Water-taking permit for Paris, Ont. gravel pit opposed by residents

A planned gravel wash pit near a drinking water source in Paris, Ontario has raised the ire of locals who opposed the permit.

The location of the permit near the town's water supply has some residents worried

Citizens in Paris will be speaking in a hearing on Wednesday to oppose the development of a gravel washing pit they say will endanger their drinking water. They have raised $80,000 to pay for a tribunal appealing the Ministry of Environment and Climate Change's decision to give the company a permit. (Mark Staplehurst/Jane & Jury)

Residents and environmental groups are fighting a water-taking permit for a quarry near Paris, Ont., saying it is too close to an aquifer that provides some of the town's drinking water.

The water-taking permit, required to service a gravel wash pit, is the subject of an Environmental Review Board hearing this week in Brantford.

The hearing started in December. The groups successfully appealed an original Ministry of Environment and Climate Change's decision granting the water-taking permit to Dufferin Aggregates, a division of CRH Canada Group Inc.

Some parts of that approval are now being reviewed by the environmental tribunal.

On Wednesday, citizens will have the chance to give their depositions, and 100 people are expected to turn up to the council chamber that only seats around 65.

The main concern for opponents is that the process of washing the gravel could leave behind materials like Atrazine that, after long-term build up over many years, would have serious repercussions for health. The activists' research suggests there's a risk to maternal health, with an increased chance of miscarriages.

McDaniel and Broomfield said that many of the long-term activists for this issue have skewed older, although recently, more young people have become involved. (Mark Staplehurst/Jane & Jury.)

"As a mother of two daughters, this is hugely disappointing," said Cassie McDaniel, "and terrifying."

McDaniel is a leading figure in the surge of residents who have recently started raising their voices about the issue in the town of about 11,000 on the Grand River near Brantford.

"There's a Facebook group called 'Paris Mamas,' it has over a thousand members," McDaniel said. She said a couple of those members started posting in the group about the wash pit and it picked up momentum very quickly.

"A group of us got together and realized that we can tell this story in a less complicated way," said McDaniel, who has a background in design and communications. 

A ten-fold tide of attention

In terms of getting support, all this seems to have worked.

"Certainly the engagement has increased ten-fold over what it has in the last years," said Jeff Broomfield. He and other members of the Concerned Citizens of Brant (CCOB) have opposed the development for about five years.

"They've made a considerable amount of change in what we're doing here, as far as getting people aware of this."

The ministry told CBC the original permit was issued after it followed strict provincial meant to protect water sources and the surrounding environment.

"The ministry conducted a thorough technical review of the company's Permit To Take Water application, engaged the local community, including Brant County, the Grand River Conservation Authority, and concerned community members, and carefully considered all comments before issuing the permit," the ministry said in an email.

The email statement also noted that Dufferin addressed all the ministry's concerns prior to the permit being issued.

Alex Faux is a local realtor who's scheduled to speak Wednesday.

"The concern is that with increasing pressure on fresh water," said Faux in a press release, "extreme measures and caution should be taken to ensure that significant water sources are protected for future generations."

"When my husband and I moved to Paris three years ago," said McDaniel, "we thought we were bringing them to a town where the water was safe for them."

While McDaniel and her cohorts have helped put a spotlight on the issue, other residents of Paris have been showing support with their wallets. Since October, the CCOB has raised $80,000 out of the $100,000 cost for legal fees.

"That's the kind of money it takes for a group of citizens to stand up and defend our water," Broomfield said.

CRH Canada Group Inc. did not respond to a request for comment.

dave.beatty@cbc.ca | @dbeatty