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County OKs Springwater site for organics facility

By Patrick Bales, The Orillia Packet & Times

The County of Simcoe released this image of what the proposed organics processing facility will look like. The preferred site is 2976 Horseshoe Valley Rd. West in Springwater Township.

The County of Simcoe released this image of what the proposed organics processing facility will look like. The preferred site is 2976 Horseshoe Valley Rd. West in Springwater Township.

A last-ditch effort spearheaded by Springwater Township representatives failed to delay Simcoe County from moving forward in its attempt to build an organics-processing and material-management facility in Springwater

Councillors overwhelmingly voted in favour Tuesday of going forward with a committee-of-the-whole recommendation to pursue additional engineering studies and an environmental-impact statement on the Horseshoe Valley Road site to arrive at a comprehensive business analysis.

Springwater Mayor Bill French first called on his colleagues to defer their decision on the matter, saying more information needed to be solicited on the proposal before responsible action could be taken. At most, he said, a delay would only push the project “a couple of months” and could potentially save taxpayers money.

His suggestion was shot down by Warden Gerry Marshall, who said a deferral would go against the will of council, which had previously set out a process regarding the proposal that it was to adhere to. A formal disagreement between the chair and the councillor forced a vote to overrule the warden, which failed.

That left councillors seeking to stop the process to try to convince their colleagues this was the wrong time to move forward at the proposed site. The anti-contingent was led by councillors from Springwater, including Deputy Mayor Don Allen. He was concerned a thorough analysis of the proposal had not been undertaken. 

“We are moving too far down a path without adequate information,” he said. “When one is looking to enter a new business segment or product line... the first thing you do is complete a thorough feasibility study and business case analysis to justify the potential investment.”

That hasn't been done yet for the organics-processing and material-management facilities, he said, despite approximately $230,000 of county money being spent. That could jump to as much as $1 million before council gives a final approval to the project.

French stressed council should have held off until the business case was complete.

“You're in for a penny or you're in for a pound,” French said, referring to the reluctance of politicians to step away from projects after spending significant public dollars. “My background is business. I never anything without a business plan knowing what it is going to cost me.”

Marshall, however, preached the patience of his colleagues, in an interview after the meeting. He said the plan, as outlined by councillors previously, is the most prudent way of moving forward. 

“To understand our costs, we actually had to have a site in mind,” Marshall said. “Rather than speculate and throw darts at the wall, we're actually now going to get facts in front of us. We'll have concrete evidence in front of council in terms of traffic, in terms of environmental, in terms of trees, in terms of costs. Then council can make an educated decision vs. guestimates or debating speculation.”

French also said his council had concerns about the location that had been selected.

“We've chosen a location that would address worst-case of lowest technology and that's not what the county's known for,” he said. While the proposed site ranked first out of more than 500 initially in the running, French feels the plants would be better situated in an urban area, similar to the one found near Pearson International Airport.

The proposed site is located 2796 Horseshoe Valley Rd. W., in a Simcoe County Forest tract. The dual waste management facilities proposed to be built there would take up approximately 11 acres of the 207 acres in that location. 

In a recorded vote on the motion, only seven councillors stood opposed. During the discussion on the motion, other ways the Township of Springwater can show its opposition to the proposed project were brought up, through questions posed by Bradford West Gwillimbury Mayor Rob Keffer and Allen. Among the most significant, the county would have to apply to the township to re-zone the property to permit construction of the facilities.

County general manger of engineering, planning and development Debbie Korolnek said upper-tier staff are already working with the municipal planning to staff to ensure all processes are followed properly. Still, the township council will have to vote on any application.

“Should local council decided to not approve the local planning applications, then the county will have the choice to abandon the proposal, change it or resort to remedies through the Ontario Municipal Board,” she said. 

Council's decision Tuesday directs staff to proceed with a number of environmental and engineering studies on the preferred location. A procurement process and request for proposal will follow. As well, two public meetings will be held on the issue, April 19, at 2 p.m. and 6 p.m. at the Simcoe County Museum.

County council will decide on approving the development in 2017, following the results of the request for proposal and business case.