September 13-20, 2004

Frost Centre closing violates Ont EA Act, citizens' group claims

A group of Ontario citizens claims that the closure of the Leslie M Frost Natural Resources Centre near Dorset, Ontario violates the Environmental Assessment Act. In a submission sent to Environment Minister Leona Dombrowsky last month, the Save the Frost Centre group, in Haliburton County, maintains that the Ministry of Natural Resources (MNR) appears to have contravened the Class Environmental Assessment for Resource Stewardship and Facility Development (Class EA).

Environmental assessments are designed to evaluate the socio-economic and cultural, as well as environmental, impacts of actions taken by public organizations and to consider alternative options. The group notes that the closure of the Frost Centre has not only had significant impacts, it has prompted a substantial public outcry.

The submission contends that the most fundamental breach of the environmental assessment (EA) process may be MNR's decision not to conduct a Class EA for the closure of the Frost Centre. "The closure and decommissioning of the Frost Centre appears to qualify as an undertaking by a public organization, therefore the Class EA should apply", says Linnea Baynton of Save The Frost Centre group. The Class EA process applies to MNR undertakings, including the decommissioning of facilities.

The second apparent violation is that the status quo operations of the Frost Centre have been altered outside the context of an EA. One of the stipulated parameters of any EA is that the status quo is to be maintained while alternatives are evaluated. The Frost Centre has been closed and is already being decommissioned, yet no decision on an environmental assessment has been made.

Thirdly, the submission notes that any EA requires that options be presented to the public in a consultation process. MNR did not do so, it says, and instead carried out its decision with no public consultation.

Steven Payne, MNR's spokesperson on the issue, has stated that the Frost Centre was never meant to be a public facility and therefore no public consultation was required.

However, the group disputes this position, pointing out that the MNR opened the Frost Centre in 1974 as "the Ontario public's window on natural resources management," with a clientele consisting almost entirely of school groups. Although its use as a training center for MNR staff increased gradually through the 1980s and '90s, by the date of closure, this function still accounted for only about 50% of the client bookings.

The fourth alleged breach is with respect to public concern. The language in the Class EA gives equal weight to both public concern and negative environmental effects, and public concern over the Frost Centre closure has been clearly and amply conveyed to MNR and the Ontario government. To date, says the group, approximately 12,000 Ontario residents have signed legal petitions, sent letters and E-mails of complaint, and made telephone calls to Queen's Park; two public protests have beem staged as well.

Coinciding with its formal submission was the presentation of an open letter from the Save the Frost Centre Group to Premier McGuinty asking him to reconsider the Frost Centre closure. The letter was signed by more than 60 organizations representing at least one million Ontarians. "The level of public concern should cause the closure of the Frost Centre to require an individual EA, let alone a Class EA. This should put a freeze on the closure of the Frost," said Baynton.

The submission outlining the alleged breaches of the EA Act has been passed on to the MNR for comment. Input from MNR will be evaluated and integrated with MOE's own analysis of the alleged contraventions. It is not known at this point when MOE will decide whether or not the Frost Centre closure must submit to an EA.

More information is available from Linnea Baynton of the Save the Frost Centre group, 705/286-3020, or Eric Gillespie of Cunningham & Gillespie LLP, 416/703-5400.

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