Conservation authority doesn’t want to slow controversial St. Clair gas plants construction


St. Clair Region Conservation Authority Chair Steve Arnold and General Manager Brian McDougall

St. Clair Region Conservation Authority Chair Steve Arnold and General Manager Brian McDougall

The St. Clair Region Conservation Authority wants to make sure it is not the organization standing in the way of a new gas power plant which is already embroiled in controversy.

Eastern Power Limited is building the plant which will use natural gas to produce energy in St. Clair Township near the Lambton Generating Station. It was given land by the provincial government after it cancelled the project originally destined for Mississauga during the last election campaign.

And while the controversy over who canceled the project and why and how much it will cost Ontario taxpayers rolls on daily at the Ontario Legislature, Eastern Power is pushing ahead with plans to build the $360 million, 300 megawatt plant in Courtright.

The company needs approval from the conservation authority since the land it is considering using, a farm across Oil Springs Line from the Lambton Generating Station, is in a flood plain.

Conservation Authority General Manager Brian McDougall says staff has been working with Eastern Power since August and any information they need has been handed over quickly. But he says there are still some questions which need to be answered before final approval is given.

“This is a monstrous project,” McDougall told the authority’s board of directors recently. “We do believe this is something that can be approved.”

McDougall says the land is prone to fast flooding, but rarely holds more than six inches of water. The company is planning to build a feature similar to a holding pond for any flood waters and raise the land the power plant will sit on slightly to avoid any problems.  McDougall says in the scope of the $360 million project, the issue is minor.

But the problem is timing. Eastern Power wants to move ahead quickly and the conservation authority’s board of directors doesn’t meet again until mid-April. So staff wanted to be able to grant final approval for the project without calling a special meeting of the board to accommodate Eastern Power’s timeline.

“They are planning a ground breaking for April 1st,” says McDougall.

But some directors were worried about the move. “Is it really fair to delegate to our manager for this approval when it is our responsibly to do it?” asked Vice Chair Sarnia Councilor Terry Burrell. “This is a major project and whatever is there should be on us.”

“Given the controversy going on around it…this particular project is going to be scrutinized quite a bit…people will ask ‘did you push this through?…Did you have full comprehension of what was going on?’” added Sarnia City/County Councilor Anne Marie Gillis.

But the majority of the board felt comfortable with giving the general manager authority to move the project forward. “I have enough confidence in the staff that they can handle it,” says Chatham-Kent Councilor Joe Faas, adding they have been working on the project for months. “If it was being railroaded, then they wouldn’t be putting restrictions on it.”