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Ferrochrome opponent set for appointment to controversial city environmental committee

Pedro Antunes was co-author of a 2019 letter signed by dozens of local physicians, expressing concern about Noront's proposed ferrochrome smelter
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Pedro Antunes, Algoma University biologist

One of the most outspoken opponents of a proposed ferrochrome smelter in Sault Ste. Marie is expected to be appointed Monday to the city's environmental sustainability committee.

Appointment of Dr. Pedro Antunes, executive research lead at Algoma University, was recommended one week ago by the city's boards and committees nominating committee.

The controversial new environmental sustainability committee is intended to replace the city's 13-year-old green committee.

It will oversee rollout of the Sault's greenhouse gas reduction plan and support projects protecting and enhancing local environmental sustainability.

Twenty-five people applied for the committee's seven non-councillor positions.

Eight appointments were made to the committee on Jan. 11, but ferrochrome and climate-change activists accused City Council of stacking the group with representatives of heavy industry and the fossil fuels sector.

On Jan. 25, councillors quietly agreed to add one additional position to the committee.

Much of Dr. Antunes' research involves the consequences of human activity on soil biodiversity and ecosystem function.

He has been a Canada Research Chair (Tier 2) since January 2015, an appointment recognizing emerging researchers with potential as leaders in their fields.

"I’m thankful for the opportunity to serve on the committee," Antunes said when advised by SooToday on Saturday of his expected appointment.

"As a scientist, I’ll be as objective as I can on all matters, including ferrochrome," he said.

In October 2019, Antunes co-wrote a letter expressing concern about Noront Resources's ferrochrome processing facility, and joined dozens of local physicians in signing it.

As SooToday's Darren Taylor has previously reported, Antunes spoke in opposition to the smelter at a public meeting on Sept. 28, 2019.

“Why produce it in the middle of the city?" Antunes told the large gathering at Algoma's Water Tower Inn. "How can we allow a ferrochrome facility in a city that has already been flagged as one of five cities in Ontario with the highest rates of cancer?”

If City Council agrees to the Antunes appointment, the committee's membership will consist of himself, Ward 3 Coun. Donna Hilsinger, Rimaz Abakar, Mark Britton, Erik Emilson, Jaime Graham, Fred Post, Andre Riopel and Bhavna Sikka.

Critics flagged five of the previous appointees for industry connections:

  • Fred Post and Rimaz Abakar work at Algoma Steel
  • Bhavna Sikka is from Tenaris Algoma Tubes
  • Mark Britton works for PUC Services Inc.
  • Jaime Graham is a Sault College professor of corporate social responsibility with extensive experience in western Canada's oil and gas industry

Also on Monday, City Council is expected to appoint Ward 5 Coun. Corey Gardi as the city's representative on the Algoma University board of governors.

Monday's City Council meeting will be livestreamed on SooToday starting at 4:30 p.m.

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David Helwig

About the Author: David Helwig

David Helwig's journalism career spans seven decades beginning in the 1960s. His work has been recognized with national and international awards.
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