LETTER: Stopping the Dump: What’s a Memorandum of Understanding?
Hi, I’m Steve McSwiggan, proud Ingersoll resident and chairperson of Oxford People Against the Landfill (OPAL Alliance). Today I’m sharing some information about the Memorandum of Understanding (MoU) agreement that has been mentioned at recent council meetings across the county.
The province is having Walker do an Environmental Assessment (EA), where they must hire experts to write reports on how the Southwestern Landfill Proposal would affect the environment of Oxford County. These take into account both the natural environment like water and air quality, and the social aspects; like enjoyment of property, real estate values, traffic concerns, etc.. Walker will identify some concerns themselves, but the government also makes them keep copies of all of the issues that the public brings to their attention, and they have to address those too.
The document where they write down all of the impact studies they will do during the EA is called the Terms of Reference (ToR), and the Ministry of the Environment will let them know if it is good enough for them to move forward with their Environmental Assessment or not. We (the public and OPAL) will all get a chance to comment on it too, likely early in the new year.
Here’s where the Memorandum of Understanding agreement comes into the picture. It’s common in Ontario for the companies behind projects like landfills to agree to pay for independent experts to look over the scientific studies that make up the EA, on behalf of the communities that reside nearby. In this case Walker has agreed to pay for what is called a “peer review” team. The team will then comment by report and possibly in a court hearing and say how they agree or disagree with the Walker’s experts.
As the “host” municipality, Zorra wishes to take a lead position in the agreement to have Walker pay the bills for a lawyer and a scientist or group of scientists. Ingersoll and South-west Oxford have also been in negotiations to join this agreement, and recently Walker has invited Oxford County council to sign the document as well.
Signing the Memorandum of Understanding does not mean that any of the municipalities are in favour of the project, it just means that Walker is paying for a review of their own data by a separate team.
I encourage everyone to learn about the Memorandum of Understanding process and the role that the municipalities are taking in becoming participants. By signing the Memorandum of Understanding, the municipalities are not necessarily supporting the landfill proposal, but rather setting in motion the means to have their experts paid for by Walker.
That being said, OPAL takes the position that “the more is the merrier” when it comes to having multiple teams of experts in place to review Walker’s Environmental Assessment studies.
It is our position that it will carry more weight with the Minister and Ministry of Environment - who will be making the final decision on whether this mountain of 17 million tonnes of trash is built in Oxford County - if there are multiple teams of experts submitting reviews of Walker’s studies to the ministry. If Walker’s experts produce reports that are missing some of our concerns or appear to have incorrect data, it will make a lot more impact if OPAL, Oxford County, the municipalities participating in the MoU agreement, and as many participating citizens as possible stand shoulder to shoulder in saying that this proposal is not a safe one to allow in Oxford County.
You can learn more about the Environmental Assessment process on our website www.opalalliance.ca, and please feel free to send in your questions about the proposal and the process to our comments page.
Steve McSwiggan, Ingersoll