OPP searching for Site 41 blockade answers

The OPP’s specialized Aboriginal response team and major events liaison teams are continuing to negotiate to end a blockade at Site 41 in Tiny Township.

Last week, protesters stepped up action they had begun on May 4; in addition to demonstrating, they began preventing construction workers from getting on site. They do, however, allow county environmental consultants monitoring the site to pass, after going through a vehicle check.

“We’re dealing with the situation on a daily basis. We have officers there seven days a week trying to bring resolution to the matter. Any form of police activity would be a last resort,” said Const. Peter Leon, the OPP’s Southern Georgian Bay media relations officer.

“Our focus is the issue of public safety – the safety of protesters, of workers, and also of officers continuing negotiations.”

The protesters, however, have taken a hard line: they say a dumpsite there would risk drinking water sources.

“We will continue to keep up the blockade until the federal government intervenes. (Protecting our water) is a treaty right. The federal government has failed to ensure the protection of our resources,” said spokesman Vicki Monague said, adding if the liner should leak, it would only take a day for contaminated water from Site 41 to reach Georgian Bay.

Because of the blockade, the county is losing prime construction time, acknoweledged the county’s environmental services manager Rob McCullough. The county was poised to put down a clay layer, on top of which a high-density plastic liner would be installed.

“Construction was going very well. We were just getting productive,” he said, adding all clay is different. “We were just getting comfortable with the way to construct the site and then we were shut down. Working with clay is very weather-dependent and we were just getting good weather.”

Simcoe County estimates the blockade is costing taxpayers $80,000 each week, as equipment sits idle, and once the blockade ends, the county would face overtime costs as well.

Support for the protesters continues to grow; a rally is planned for July 25 at 1:30 p.m., with former Toronto mayor and federal cabinet minister David Crombie joining the Council of Canadians’ chairperson Maude Barlow – who is also the United Nations’ first senior advisor on water.

The David Suzuki Foundation and the Green Party of Canada have joined in the call for a moratorium on the site. Ebenezer United Church issued a call to assist with volunteers – and now, the United Church’s regional conference has come out against Site 41.

A motion proposed by Ebenezer will be discussed at the denomination’s triennial national conference in August. Already supported by more than 300 congregations from Toronto through Grey and Simcoe counties and Muskoka, the motion says the church believes the dump threatens the Alliston Aquifer, a drinking water source for many communities in the region.

This is the same argument the Council of Canadians uses for its opposition; its chairman, Maude Barlow, also serves as the United Nations first senior advisor on water issues.

“What we have learned since the plan was accepted for that site is we do not have all the water we need. It is not an unlimited resource,” said Barlow. “When the folks looked at this site 25 years ago, we did not have this knowledge. We did not have the groundwater map. We did not understand the groundwater flows and the need to protect (drinking water) sources.”

The United Church’s Toronto Conference has also voiced concerns directly to Ontario Environment Minister John Gerretsen and plans to make Site 41 an issue at its triennial general council in August.

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