In one of the province’s longest running environmental battles, activists and residents of Tiny Township are waging a last-ditch effort to stop a municipal landfill from being dug on top of an aquifer described as one of the purest sources of water on earth. After three decades of controversy and flip-flops, the province is poised to issue the final permit needed for the dump, known as Simcoe County Landfill Site 41, located south of Midland on vacant farmland several kilometres upstream of Wye Marsh, one of southern Ontario’s most important wetlands.

The Environmental Assessment Board originally turned down the dump proposal in 1989, but subsequently approved it in 1995 after Simcoe County appealed the decision to the provincial cabinet. Two years ago, the world’s leading laboratory for testing trace metals in water, at Heidelberg University in Germany, found the area’s groundwater, which wells naturally to the surface at a number of sites, to be exceedingly pristine, comparable to ancient ice cores taken from Arctic glaciers.

Simcoe County Council, however, voted 16 to 15 in June 2007 to go ahead with construction on Site 41. High groundwater pressure at the site required the county to apply to the Ministry of the Environment (MOE) to pump up to 410,000 litres of groundwater a day – enough to meet the daily needs of 250,000 people – from it for the three to six months required to dig the pit. Although MOE has still not granted the water pumping permit almost a year after receiving the county’s request, government documents that dump opponent Ray Millar obtained through the Freedom of Information Act show that ministry staff have already drafted an approval for the proposal. The county hopes to open the dump by next fall.

Millar, chair of the Site 41 Community Monitoring Committee, is appealing MOE’s decision to the provincial ombudsman. He and other opponents are also hoping that Simcoe County Council will reverse its stand before further construction goes ahead. Millar notes that a county-wide organics recycling program launched in October will effectively double Simcoe’s waste diversion rate, leaving it with 40 years of capacity available at the four landfills it already operates. “We have the time and all we need now is the political will to turn ourselves to a better solution,” says Millar. “Zero waste is the direction we should be moving in.”

by Tim Tiner