Guelph-Eramosa motion shatters plans for Xinyi Canada Glass plant

Cheers erupted when Guelph-Eramosa council voted 4-1 in favour of a resolution refusing the Xinyi Canada Glass Limited application for a $450-million glass plant in the township.

The July 16 regular council meeting was held at Parkwood Gardens Community Church in Guelph to accommodate a large audience due to a motion put forward by councillor David Wolk on June 25 asking council to refuse Xinyi’s application.

In a recorded vote, Mayor Chris White and councillors Wolk, Louise Marshall and Corey Woods voted in favour of the motion to refuse the glass plant, with councillor Mark Bouwmeester opposed.

White said he’s not sure what will happen next.

“The township has rejected the application and it will be with Xinyi to see what it is they may care to do or not,” he said.

At the end of the meeting Xinyi representatives declined to comment, but the company posted a statement on its website on July 18.

"We are very disappointed with the council's decision," the company states, adding it remains committed to building its first North American float glass plant.

The statement does not indicate whether or not the Guelph-Eramosa site remains Xinyi's preference, perhaps through an appeal of council's decision to the Local Planning Appeal Tribunal (formerly the Ontario Municipal Board).

"We will review our position and consider possible options to go forward," the website states.

The provincial government announced in November Xinyi Glass Holdings planned to open a manufacturing facility in Ontario.

In March, the Advertiser was first to report Xinyi Canada Glass had chosen a rural industrial (M1) site at 5081 Wellington Road 32, north of Wellington Road 124.

At the time, president Tommy Wong told the Advertiser the company looked at six or seven sites before choosing Guelph-Eramosa because it was in close proximity to post-secondary institutions, rail lines and highway networks.

From the beginning, many Guelph-Eramosa residents were opposed to the plant, notably the plan to extract  1.6 million litres of water daily to cool glass.

They expressed concerns at a May 9 public meeting at the Marden Community Centre, and Xinyi agreed to hold a second meeting to better address those concerns.

Proposed water taking was also the main objection voiced in Wolk’s motion to refuse the glass plant.

His amended motion on July 16 stated the rural industrial (M1) zone permits only “dry” uses, “which do not use significant amounts of water and which do not produce significant amounts of effluent.”

The motion also notes the Wellington County Official Plan states rural employment areas will be used for “dry” industrial uses that do not use significant water.

The motion also quotes the Provincial Policy Statement, noting planning authorities must “protect, improve or restore the quality and quantity of water by, among other things, … ‘minimizing potential negative impacts’ and … ‘implementing necessary restrictions on development and site alteration’ to protect municipal drinking water supplies, vulnerable surface and ground water features and other hydrologic features.”

Wolk said there is no middle ground in accepting or denying his motion.

“I think it’s important to mention that we’re here tonight to deal with the situation and emotion I believe should never have been necessary,” he said.

He noted that since February township staff have known Xinyi would draw more than a million litres of water per day.

“By March 24 that figure had become 1.6 million per day,” Wolk said. “By any measure, the declared water requirements far exceeded that for a ‘dry use’ industry, even on the most elastic interpretation of ‘dry.’

“It is unfortunate that township staff and its planning consultants neither came to council for clarification regarding ‘dry use’ nor exercised their authority to immediately advise the applicant that the proposed glass plant was unacceptable development under the conditions of our bylaw.”

Wolk also said voting in favour of the motion would show council’s willingness to uphold its bylaws and opposing it would show a willingness to ignore bylaws “and create a reputation for questionable things and decision making that will haunt this council for years to come.”

He continued, “It will be a betrayal of the oath taken by members of this council to properly serve this community and steward its resources.”

An oath to uphold bylaws is why White voted in favour of Wolk’s motion, he said.

When plans were first announced in March, the mayor called the plant a “game changer” for the township that could promote economic growth.

However, on July 16 he said, “I see dry (use), I see a bylaw that I swore to uphold and that works for me.”

He explained there may be ambiguity and room for interpretation in the bylaw – there are no exact numbers for water taking limits, for example – but the bylaw does use specific terms such as “significant water use” and “dry use.”

White said the original bylaw was likely written to reference the amount of effluent permitted in rural areas.

“If you get a million gallons come in, you’ve got to have a place for a million gallons to go out,” he said.

“In this case, there wasn’t that much effluent, but that’s not the way the bylaw’s written and so if that was the case that needs to be changed or redefined – but as written it says ‘dry use.’”

In a normal application process, White said the issue of water taking would have eventually been addressed through the planning process. However, the motion was pulled forward.

“It was a council move to move a motion forward and ask do you support your bylaw or not,” he said.

“So it’s kind of been detached from the Xinyi application and it’s a standalone bylaw – do you support your bylaws or not?”

Four delegations also spoke in favour of Wolk’s motion, with Carol Easton, Julia Forward and Susan McSherry talking on behalf of the citizen advocacy group GET Concerned, and Ron East talking on behalf of the Council of Canadians Guelph Chapter.

Only Xinyi representative Neil Dunsmore and Bouwmeester spoke in favour of allowing the application process to continue.

“The province and the township invited Xinyi here and asked them to submit their zoning bylaw amendment application as part of the Green Manufacturing Initiative, which triggered a process,” Dunsmore said. “The province’s process and your process … Xinyi has been following that process set out by your legislation.”

Five days before Wolk’s motion was presented to council on June 25, Xinyi received a letter from MHBC, the township’s planning consultant, outlining 10 items that required further documentation and materials.

“This included justification and support as to why the proposed float glass plant can be considered dry use,” Dunsmore said.

“Those reports clarify the issue of water use and replenishment. Replenishment is one thing nobody has talking about … Xinyi has had these reports expedited at considerable expense.”

They were submitted to the township on July 11.

Dunsmore said Xinyi wants councillors to consider the optics of supporting Wolk’s motion.

“Township invited a business to put in an application, which triggers a process,” he said. “Then in the middle of that process council puts forward a motion to quash that application, and that process, without giving township staff and consultants the opportunity to review and comment.

“That perception to local, provincial, Canadian and international businesses is that Guelph-Eramosa Township is closed for future economic development.”

Bouwmeester, too, suggested Wolk’s route was unethical.

“Not the application, nothing to do with water, nothing to do with the amendments, the fact that we asked somebody to go do some studies, spend some money … and we’re not even going to look at that,” he said.

Throughout Bouwmeester’s lengthy comments, audience members  yelled random comments   such as “shut up.”

“This is unethical and … irresponsible and entirely premature,” Bouwmeester said of the motion. “(It) totally flies in the face of anything even remotely related to the principals of due process and due diligence.

“We’ve sent the applicant down a path and now we’re arbitrarily pulling the proverbial rug right out from underneath them.”

He said he’s concerned about potential legal issues and the damage that refusing the application could have on the reputations of Guelph-Eramosa and the county.

“Say goodbye to all the other businesses that indicate they’re going to come set up shop in Guelph-Eramosa if a plant like this is opened up. Goodbye jobs, goodbye opportunity,” he said.

“If this is our version of doing business, we’re in for a big problem here. We need to follow the process as we always have done.”

Bouwmeester urged councillors to consider if they are deciding “based on science and public engagement … and on reason, or are you going to make a decision based on the squeaky wheels, political pressure of special interest groups?”  

Bouwmeester moved to defer Wolk’s motion, but his motion did not receive a seconder so it was lost.