‘All it’s gonna do is slow it down’

HEATHER WRIGHT PHOTO Dave Willson and Sherri Northcott stand on their front lawn with the landfill behind them. York1 is planning to bring up to 6,000 tonnes of waste to the site, which neighbours say has not been used as a landfill in decades.

Neighbours pleased, cautious York1 plan to reopen the Dresden dump will face more scrutiny

Dave Willson isn’t sure if this is a win, but he’s glad the province will force York1 Environmental Waste Solutions to go through a full Environmental Assessment if it wants to reopen the dormant Dresden dump.

Friday, Ontario’s Minister of the Environment said York1’s plan to turn the Irish School Road property into a construction and soil waste recycling facility and open a landfill which would accept 1.6 million tonnes of waste, will have to go through a full Environmental Assessment.

“This site was established over 40 years ago, prior to Ontario’s requirement that landfills undergo an Environmental Assessment. In keeping with the process that any other landfill would be required to undergo today, I will be taking steps to require this project to complete a comprehensive Environmental Assessment under the Environmental Assessment Act,” Andrea Khanjin said in a statement on X.

“This would require this site to address local community concerns and mitigate potential impacts before it could open.”

Dave Willson lives directly across from the gates of the Dresden dump. When the minister tweeted out her decision, his cellphone lit up with people telling him about the development.

“I don’t know if it’s a win, but it’s it’s definitely a plus,” Willson told The Independent. “That means the ministry is actually listened to us. The government is listening.”

But Willson is quick to say that this is far from the end of the story. “This is gonna slow it down. How many years? That’s all it’s gonna do is slow it down at this point.”

Wendy Vercauteren of Dresden CARED – a citizen group formed to fight York1’s plan – says they’re “quite happy” the minister ordered and Environmental Assessment. “Ultimately, we still do not want the landfill, but we are feeling relieved that there will have to be an environmental assessment.”

Vercauteren added the group “can’t take their foot off the gas” saying an Environmental Assessment could still lead to the project being approved.

Politicians are also skeptical about the move. Ontario’s NDP Leader Marit Stiles was in Alvinston and Strathroy Saturday. She met with members of Dresden CARED and spoke to The Independent about the minister’s announcement.

“We’re going to want to see more details before we let off the pressure,” she said.

“We’ll want to see what that actually includes because this government has certainly watered down environmental assessments consistently.”

Stiles believes the announcement – released just days before the Ontario Legislature resumes sitting – was due to public pressure. But she adds there could be more communities in the same boat as Dresden as other companies look for properties with old landfills.

“I think this is a loophole that we’re going to see companies exploit as much as they possibly can. That’s why you need government that actually always consistently enforces environmental assessments.

“This government has used the excuse of reducing red tape for just about everything, but at the end of the day, we need to protect our communities, our water systems. That’s why environmental system assessments exist. It’s important and you can’t just use them when you get pressure to do so you have to be consistent.”

Stiles also contends the government took the action after feeling pressure from the community and worrying that it might affect the outcome of the coming by-election in Lambton-Kent-Middlesex – a riding which includes Dresden.

The politics don’t seem to concern Willson. He’s wondering what York1’s next move will be.

“We’ll see what happens because are they’re gonna say ‘yeah, are we just going to cut our losses and leave?’ That’d be the best thing. But then who comes in behind them?”

York1 officials were not immediately available for comment.