General Electric-Hitachi officials admit the company needs to communicate better with the public about a uranium processing plant that has caused confusion and panic in a west-end neighbourhood.
“It’s obvious we need to do some work,” GE-Hitachi environment, health and safety manager Paul Desiri told a packed room at the Bloor/Gladstone branch of the Toronto Public Library Wednesday evening. The public meeting was hosted by community group DIG IN (Dupont Improvement Group).
The meeting about the facility on Lansdowne Ave. was supposed to be the first step toward opening up communication, GE-Hitachi officials said. But frustration and finger-pointing dominated much of the 90-minute-long meeting and many residents didn’t get a chance to ask questions.
Politicians and residents grilled Desiri and vice-president communications and public affairs Kim Warburton about why residents didn’t know about the plant. Davenport MPP Jonah Schein asked the packed room how many people knew about the plant before it came to light in the media and only six people raised their hands.
“The lack of transparency isn’t acceptable,” Schein said.
Warburton told the packed audience they followed all the public consultation guidelines set by the regulator, but said they are now trying to go above and beyond those standards by appearing at public meetings and setting up a hotline for residents’ questions.
GE-Hitachi officials also sparred with Peterborough activist Zach Ruiter, who has been going door-to-door in the community to warn people about the plant. He wants the plant to suspend operations while the company goes through a process with the community.
GE-Hitachi officials and Ruiter had a verbal tennis match going on throughout the meeting. GE-Hitachi suggested some of Ruiter’s facts were wrong, while Ruiter suggested some of what GE-Hitachi was saying was misleading.
Resident Matt Park told Ruiter the community didn’t want to be used as a soapbox for him to mount an anti-nuclear crusade. He criticized a poster Ruiter posted on the wall at the meeting that shows the GE logo with devil’s horns.
“You’re better than that,” he said.
Ruiter said he doesn’t feel ashamed about trying to alert the community.
“I’m not trying to exploit this community. I’m trying to bring justice to this community,” he said.
Fingers were also appointed at city councillor Cesar Palacio (Ward 17, Davenport), who couldn’t attend the meeting and sent staffer Mike Makrigiorgos in his place. He was criticized for not knowing about the plant.
“The city’s job is to deal with land use,” Makrigiorgos said, adding that Palacio is working on having the site’s land-use designation changed from heavy industrial to light employment.
The meeting ended when the library closed, with many people in the audience still waiting to speak, some clearly frustrated.
GE-Hitachi says people with questions about the Lansdowne Ave. facility can call the company at 1-855-696-9588 or email GEH.Canada@ge.com.