Responding to accusations it was overloading an influential new environmental committee with industrial representatives, City Council voted unanimously this week to also add Dr. Pedro Antunes from Algoma University.
The appointment of a known opponent of Noront Resources Ltd.'s proposed ferrochrome smelter was accompanied by some effusive compliments.
"Pedro's great. He's a great guy, he's got a lot of skill, a lot of knowledge, a lot of intelligence. I'm happy to see him there," said Mayor Christian Provenzano.
"I've always really appreciated communicating with Dr. Antunes via email about various environmental issues in the city," added Ward 2 Coun. Luke Dufour. "I think he'll be a great asset to the committee."
Antunes is Algoma U's executive research lead and an authority on the consequences of human activity on soil biodiversity and ecosystem function.
He's also a Tier 2 Canada Research Chair and secretary of the Ecological Society of America's invasive species section.
Replacing the Sault's 13-year-old green committee, the new environmental sustainability committee will oversee implementation of the city's greenhouse gas reduction plan, in addition to supporting projects protecting environmental sustainability.
The committee attracted heavy interest from climate change and environmental activists, with 25 applications for its seven non-councillor positions.
After concerns were expressed about the initial eight appointments, City Council agreed on Jan. 25 to add one additional position to the committee.
Dr. Antunes was co-author of a 2019 letter expressing concern about Noront's proposed ferrochrome processing facility.
At a public meeting on Sept. 28, 2019, he questioned why a ferrochrome smelter should be allowed in the middle of a city flagged as having one of the highest cancer rates in Canada.
When the original eight committee members were appointed last month, Ward 3 Coun. Matthew Shoemaker defended the need to have industry stakeholders on board, but also expressed a wish for representation from Algoma University.
"Specifically, I think we wished that there was an Algoma University rep. There was a name from Sault College and a name from Algoma University. Both of them made it to the final echelons of voting. Ultimately, we were limited to what the committee composition is. If there was room to expand, I think an Algoma University rep would have been the next preference of the committee," Shoemaker said at the time.