Kitchener-Waterloo·In Depth

Residents try to block proposed glass plant near Guelph

A proposal to build a float glass plant in Guelph/Eramosa township has met with resistance from a group of residents who have safety and quality of life concerns.

Proposal for manufacturing plant pits Guelph/Eramosa residents against glass manufacturer

Xinyi Glass Holdings provides glass products to the Canadian and northern U.S. markets. (Submitted photo)

A proposal by Xinyi Glass Holdings to build a float glass plant in Guelph/Eramosa township has met with resistance from a group of residents who have safety and quality of life concerns about a stretch of land between Cambridge and Guelph.

Float glass is made by floating melted glass on top of a molten metal bed. The process creates a very flat and uniform glass surface. The process also generates extreme heat, and water is used to cool the manufactured glass. 

Xinyi makes float glass for residential and commercial property including residential windows, shower doors, table tops and bus shelters.

Once Xinyi is fully operational, the company hopes to supply glass to the Canadian and northern U.S. markets. 

Company officials say it makes sense to open a plant in Canada because there is demand for float glass and it eliminates the current 100 per cent reliance on imports. 

The company says it would also hire 400 people in the engineering field, which they say means a lot of opportunity for students at local universities and colleges.

Traffic, water supply concern residents

A group of citizens known as GET Concerned, who have hired an environmental lawyer, have raised questions about the amount of well-water the company is expected to use and the potential safety hazard of having a furnace on the site that runs year-round.

Susan McSherry is with the group. She and her neighbours living between Guelph and Cambridge have a number of concerns including:

  • Potential roadway traffic increases due to shipping trucks. 
  • The risk to water supplies.
  • The safety of old rail tracks re-activated for raw material shipment.
  • The potential location of the proposed plant.

"Across from [the proposed plant] is a horse farm. To the north of it are agricultural fields and rural residents. To the west are light industrial trucking firms, used car sales lot, some light warehousing and some other houses," said McSherry.

"To the south across from the railroad tracks which Xinyi wants to use to bring in their raw materials, there is a propane depot, a gas station and a chemical factory."

McSherry said a hastily called meeting in March left residents with more questions than answers.

Xinyi is now waiting for the results of technical reports being prepared by local firms to answer the concerns of residents concerning water and traffic issues, which they hope to have completed by early July.

Xinyi Glass Holdings said they chose the Guelph/Eramosa Township location over 22 other potential locations. (Submitted photo)

Bylaw changes sought

Daniel Lau, senior advisor of business development with Xinyi, said the glass-making process involves the raw materials being moved through a hot furnace followed by cooling the finished product with a lot of water.

Most of the water will be recirculated, he said. But water-usage studies are being conducted on the potential effect on wells the plant could have in an area that doesn't have a public water supply or a public sewer system. 

Guelph/Eramosa Township is a U-shaped municipality that covers the west, north and east sides of the City of Guelph, encompassing rural countryside of rolling hills, farm houses and large residential properties.

To move into the area, Xinyi has requested five bylaw amendments with the township.

  • Relief for the maximum height of the building.
  • Relief on the loading space for shipping. (They're building an internal loading area so the company says a typical loading dock would not be needed.)
  • Relief for site parking to accommodate at least 300 parking spots, not 2,000 as the bylaw requires.
  • Relief to create a campus with small dormitory to house staff brought in from overseas for employee training. 
  • -Have staff [on-site] for emergency planning around a hot furnace as an immediate response team.

Furnace would be embedded in ground

The process of making float glass begins with mixing the ingredients into a hot furnace before it is moved down a production line and eventually cooled by water.

Neil Dinsmore, a spokesperson for Xinyi said the furnace is embedded in the ground, encased in concrete and runs on natural gas.

"There is very, very, very, little risk of — in fact I would say there is zero risk — of an explosion. But you can never say 'nothing can happen.' There's things that can happen that none of us have ever been aware that could happen," said Dinsmore.

"But the protections they have in place are such that there is no risk to the public of an explosion from that furnace."

Water

As for the water, Dinsmore said it will be recirculated within the system to reduce usage of water from the local aquifer.

"They're putting in different catchment technology to catch and retain the water, get it down below — under the surface — so they reduce the evaporation rate. I don't know of any company in North America that is investing millions of dollars like that," said Dinsmore.

"They're not going to invest that kind of money to have water dry up in 5, 10, 15 years. They want to be here long term."

Dinsmore said the company also plans to drill a well 600 feet (183 m) deep that would not interfere with the private wells currently used by property owners. 

Ian Rogers, the Chief Administrative Officer for the Township of Guelph/Eramosa said the land at Highway 124 and Wellington Rd. 32 is designated as "employment lands." (Google Maps)

Motion moves to halt plans

The citizens' group also has the backing of a Guelph/Eramosa Township councillor David Wolk, who has introduced a motion for the July 16 township council meeting calling for any further consideration of the Xinyi Float Glass plant to be stopped.   

Wolk's motion suggests the factory would violate an existing zoning bylaw in the township known as "For Dry Use."  That means any industry that sets up there cannot use significant amounts of water.

​Ian Roger, chief administrative officer for the township, said they want to have enough information at the next session to clearly outline the proposal. 

"These were designated employment lands. [We're] just at the point now where in terms of the growth in both Wellington [County] and Waterloo [Region] this is a site that is favourable to a lot of new businesses or people that are expanding."

Susan McSherry explained her group will take further action if the Wolk motion fails, asking the mayor of the township to introduce an interim control bylaw.

"An interim control bylaw ... is being used by many municipalities in Ontario," said McSherry.

"It gives everybody, all the stakeholders the municipality, the public, the opportunity to conduct further independent assessment to have more third party reviews and expert commentary."

About the Author

Joe Pavia

Reporter/Editor

Joe Pavia is a Reporter/Editor with CBC K-W 89.1 FM. He's normally heard weekdays on The Morning Edition but also covers a wide range of news and feature stories for both radio and web. Email him at Joseph.Pavia@cbc.ca Follow him on twitter @PaviaJoe1964