Windsor council warned of danger of shedding EV battery plant with out expedited provincial zoning order

Windsor city council is being asked to support a request to the province to provide an expedited zoning approval for the NextStar battery plant investment, without which the $5 billion Stellantis-LGES plant and the associated 2,500 jobs could be in jeopardy, according to a city report .

The report, which goes before council on Monday, June 13, is asking council to support a letter of request from the mayor’s office to Ontario’s deputy minister of economic development, job creation and trade to apply a Minister’s Zoning Order (MZO) to expedite the zoning approvals for the 230 acres of land assembled by the city off Banwell Road and EC Row.

“There is a significant risk of losing the planned investment if zoning to permit EV battery manufacturing is not in place by August 2022,” says a report to council authored by senior city planner, Greg Atkinson.

“If we don’t do this, this really means the battery factory will not be coming to Windsor. Because we cannot get them built without significant risk in the timeline they need to be operational,” Windsor Mayor Drew Dilkens says.

The report also warns that using the municipal re-zoning approvals process opens the door to possible appeals to the Ontario Land Tribunal, “which would result in a significant delay to the approvals process—effectively derailing the investment.”

The proposed site is comprised of 15 separate properties, all acquired by the city for $45 million, but with mixed zoning approvals ranging from industrial to business park and mixed-use.

“While the site is partially zoned to permit manufacturing uses—an amendment to Zoning By-law 8600 is necessary to permit the proposed manufacturing facility across the entire site,” the report states.

Section 47 of the province’s planning act allows the city to apply for an MZO “to govern land uses within the area subject to the order,” reads the report.

An MZO is not appealable to the Ontario Land Tribunal and there is no required public consultation process.

“Expedited approval of the zoning facilitated by the Ministry of Economic Development, Job Creation and Trade would remove the risk of appeal and assist with meeting the tight construction timelines,” the report reads.

“We have no choice. We just simply can’t sit back and hope that we go through the process and that there are no appeals,” says Dilkens. “We have to give certainty to the company that they can get the land, get the shovels in the ground and make sure they can meet their timelines.”

The report states the Stellantis-LG joint venture has “an aggressive schedule to commence site work, construction and ramp up production,” with the goal of having the plant built and operational by 2024.

The necessary work to justify the zoning amendment through typical municipal approvals is “nearly complete,” according to the report, but “there is not enough time to complete the typical approvals process as set out within the Planning Act.”

“We can’t meet their timeline if we go through the process that is enshrined in provincial law that we follow for 99.99 per cent of applications. For this one application, because of its size, its speed and because it’s so unique, we need to ask the province for the MZO,” says Dilkens.

Council also received letters of correspondence from a handful of nearby First Nations communities asking to be fully consulted on the project.

Janet Macbeth, the consultation manager for Walpole Island First Nation penned a letter to the city, showing concern that the MZO request will “shortchange the consultation process with Walpole Island First Nation,” and is asking for a commitment from the city to be consulted, accommodated and provided with meaningful benefits.

“This project will have a huge impact on the region, and we need to work together so that that impact is a positive one for Walpole Island First Nations,” the letter reads. “We ask that you make clear to the ministry when requesting the MZO that consultation, accommodation, and the security of benefits to WIFN is a priority for the City of Windsor if this project is to go forward.”

Another letter from The Chippewas of Kettle and Stony Point First Nation and Caldwell First Nation requests council delay voting on the motion “to ensure that there is sufficient time for appropriate consultation and accommodation of our First Nations prior to any decision being made.”

Caldwell First Nation Chief Mary Duckworth and Chief Jason Henry of Chippewas of Kettle and Stony Point First Nation say they have been shut out of the consultation process and have yet to receive any impact to species at risk and archeological assessment reports.

“As signatories to treaties with Canada, we expect that benefits derived from works undertaken in our treaty lands will be shared with us and harms to our rights will be compensated for,” the letter reads. “We need to have a full understanding of what impacts the project will have on our rights, in order to determine what shape such measures should take in this case.”

Philip Lee, a spokesperson with Caldwell First Nation, tells CTV Windsor the band has no desire to stand in the way of the project and want it to move forward, but also doesn’t want to set a bad precedent on a lack of duty to consult.

In a statement to CTV News, Chief Mary Duckworth says, “The Supreme Court of Canada case law upholds the requirement to provide us detailed information, meaningful consultation, and proportionate accommodation with our First Nation regarding projects contemplated in our traditional territories. This has to happen before a project is approved or else the decision is vulnerable to being judicially reviewed. Engaging in this process is the only way we are able to determine the possible impacts that projects may have on our rights.”

She says a consultation engagement with a view to consent has not happened and the band only received correspondence from the province regarding the project a week prior. Chief Duckworth says they are concerned about the engagement process, including archeological field with without any input from Caldwell’s consulting expert archeologists and preliminary conclusions regarding species at risk.

“We are seeking the City of Windsor’s support in ensuring that adequate consultation and meaningful accommodation of our First Nations is undertaken in respect of this EV Battery Plant,” Duckworth’s statement reads. “We ask you to delay voting on the motion proposed today to ensure there is sufficient time for adequate consultation and accommodation of our First Nations.”

Windsor council meets at 4 pm Monday to consider the MZO request.

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