Residents of Stratford are claiming victory after the company behind a controversial glass factory project in the theatre city said it was suspending its plans “indefinitely to avoid further financial loss and unfounded attacks on its reputation.”
Xinyi Glass Canada Ltd., said it was “greatly disappointed” that the city and company were unable to approve a cost-sharing agreement for infrastructure upgrades for the project, adding that it was “critical for the timely development of the proposed float glass facility.”
“In light of the continued deferral of approval by Stratford City Council, Xinyi Canada has decided to suspend the project indefinitely to avoid further financial loss and unfounded attacks on its reputation,” the company said in a statement posted on its website Tuesday.
Last fall, the city of Stratford released details about plans for the $400-million plan for the first float glass manufacturing facility in the country. Residents also found out that the project had been approved through a controversial ministerial zoning order — a tool that gives the minister the authority to designate land use without the possibility of appeals.
In 2018, Xinyi’s plans had faced opposition in the Township of Guelph-Eramosa, where residents were concerned about greenhouse gas emissions, particulate emissions from the plant and extensive water use.
While Stratford residents had similar environmental concerns, their anger was directed at the secrecy behind the project after it was revealed that mayor Dan Mathieson requested the MZO from the province following in-camera council discussions.
“A bunch of concerned residents got together and said, OK, how do we slow this down, because it was racing ahead and once we got going, we discovered there was so much appetite for information in town that it was overwhelming to council,” said Mike Sullivan, one of the residents behind the citizens’ group Get Concerned Stratford, which helped residents organize virtually: holding meetings, rallies, writing campaigns and daily vigils
Sullivan’s advice for other communities facing MZO’s: “I’m not sure if you can create that much public outrage in other situations, but there is no harm in trying. That’s all what we did: gather all the facts, convey it to as much of the public as we could and let them decide for themselves if they liked it or not. And they didn’t.”
In a statement, the city said it had “been made aware” of the decision, adding that they “will consider the implications of Xinyi’s decision.”
Facing significant backlash, the city decided to put a pause on the further discussion around the project in December, citing the pandemic and needing time to work out the cost-sharing agreement that would cost it $6-million. In January, the discussions — the final piece in deal — were further delayed.
In the statement, Xinyi said the “project had been progressing well leading up to November 2020.”
“Unfortunately, misinformation and falsehoods spread by small opposition groups have negatively impacted public perception of the project. Radical insinuations were made, with overt hostility demonstrated in opposition to the project’s development,” the statement said.
Environmental lawyer David Donnelly, who is representing Get Concerned Stratford said it’s now up to the city to ask for the MZO to be cancelled.
“This is a powerful victory for residents,” he said. “But the MZO is still there on that land for a glass factory, and the cost-sharing agreement is still out there. It’s now council’s turn to do the right thing.”
Correction — Feb. 16, 2021: This article was edited to clarify that Stratford is a city.