Processing & productivity
Southern Ontario municipality eyes bidding for Xinyi glass plant
March 1, 2021 By Alex Kurial/The Independent/Local Journalism Initiative
Stratford, Ont.,’s loss may be St. Clair, Ont.,’s gain as Xinyi Glass looks for a new home for their float glass factory. St. Clair is a rural municipality of about 15,000 in southwestern Ontario near Sarnia.
Councillor Pat Brown raised the possibility at last week’s council meeting. The Chinese company plans to build a $400 million plant to produce glass for things such as skyscraper windows to sun roofs.
Brown made a motion to send a letter to MPP Bob Bailey to gather support. Both brownfield and greenfield sites were proposed as locations for the estimated one million square foot plant, including the current OPG site once the structure is finally cleared out in 2022.
But drawing the plant to St. Clair may be a hard sell. Xinyi has already tried to bring the factory to two other Ontario communities, and both times was met with heavy opposition that ultimately sank the project.
Xinyi’s first attempt was into Guelph-Eramosa Township in 2018. Council there voted it down, because it needed to draw more than one million litres of water per day from the water table.
The decision drew condemnation from Premier Doug Ford. “Who refuses 400 jobs?” Ford said.
Xinyi’s next attempt was in Stratford, where they were met with regular protests ranging from the plant’s potential environmental impact to concerns of involvement with the Chinese government.
In light of sustained backlash from the community, Stratford council tabled the proposal indefinitely. Recently, Xinyi “suspended the project indefinitely to avoid further financial loss and unfounded attacks on its reputation.”
“Xinyi looks forward to bringing the project back to Ontario when the investment environment is more welcoming,” the company said in a statement last week.
St. Clair thinks it could be a good fit along the St. Clair River. It hopes the local MPP will use his provincial influence to attract the plant. Council is also writing a letter to the Sarnia-Lambton Economic Program to express their interest.
“I’m certainly interested in attracting businesses here,” says Deputy Mayor Steve Miller. But he added “It makes me a little leery that they’ve been turned down at two locations.”
“I do think there’s quite possibly a good fit for our township, and more industry and more jobs are certainly welcome here,” says Councillor Bill Myers.
Mayor Steve Arnold indicated his support for the plant, particularly at the OPG site. He says it offers water, sewer and natural gas facilities, along with a dock. He added St. Clair has extensive experience with industrial (M3) zoning. But he’s hedging his bets whether the township can catch the international glassmaker’s eye.
“We’ve started lots of processes over the years, some have worked out and some haven’t. But unless you start, you go nowhere,” says Arnold.
Whether St. Clair lands the glass plant or not, Arnold wants something done soon with the OPG site. The mayor is hoping for some provincial pressure “to get OPG to move off the fact that they don’t want to do anything with that site.
“It’s time that they get off the pot and let some other development happen on that site,” says Arnold.
“Everything’s right there, yet it’s just a terrible waste to see that thing destroyed and forgotten about by OPG.”
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