City officials dropped a bombshell on the community of Coniston earlier this month when, through a press release, Mayor Brian Bigger announced that Greater Sudbury had selected the small community as the preferred location for Noront Resources’ ferrochrome smelter.
Almost immediately, officials were scrambling to provide information to stunned Conistonians. Coun. Deb McIntosh, whose ward includes Coniston, hastily arranged a public meeting for the following week. Mayor Bigger, fresh from his tour of the Outokumpu ferrochrome facility in Finland, did the rounds with local media to assure the public that there is nothing to worry about when it comes to ferrochrome.
It all looked and sounded like damage control. Almost overnight, Conistonians, fearful of the impacts that a new smelter will have on their community, were provoked into action. A website was registered – www.saveconiston.ca – and content about the potentially harmful effects of chromite processing was being shared around the community via social media.
At the public meeting – the first where the city shared information directly with the impacted community – residents were demanding answers about chemical reactions and impacts related to trivalent and hexavalent chromium emissions. They also wanted to know how their community could have been selected by the city as the site for a massive new piece of industrial infrastructure without anyone from the city first asking residents for their opinions.
Residents didn’t trust the answers they received from municipal officials about industrial processes and the production of carcinogenic hexavalent chromium. And no answers at all were offered with regards to a lack of public consultation and community engagement.
It didn’t have to be this way, of course. But this council has developed a nasty habit of making decisions first, and consulting with the public later.
The good news for Conistonians opposed to the project may be that Noront hasn’t yet made a decision regarding which northern municipality will play host to Ontario’s first ferrochrome production facility. Greater Sudbury, Timmins, Sault Ste. Marie and Thunder Bay are all angling for Noront’s prize: 350 full-time jobs and a $1 billion facility that will see chromite ore from the Ring of Fire turned into ferrochrome, an important product used to make stainless steel.
For the rest of this column: http://www.thesudburystar.com/2018/02/25/may-no-social-license-for-coniston-smelter