MAC/20: Mines and Communities

Tax revolt brewing; Mine's neighbours withholding property dues

Published by MAC on 2007-08-31

Tax revolt brewing; Mine's neighbours withholding property dues

Frank Armstrong, The Whig

31st August 2007

Local News - Non-native neighbours of a proposed uranium mine north of Sharbot Lake are showing that area Algonquins aren't the only people who have resorted to civil disobedience to push for government action.

A number of North Frontenac Township residents have visited their local government office recently to tell staff they won't pay their municipal tax bills until the township council takes a stance on the prospect of the uranium mine.

"All we're asking is for them to say if they stand for or against this mine, but they're sitting on the fence," said Earl Recoskie, who lives most of the year next to the proposed mine site on Highway 509.

Recoskie, who is opposed to the mine, is one of three local residents who visited the township offices in Plevna on Wednesday, the deadline for the latest instalment of municipal property taxes, to tell staff they won't pay their property taxes.

Word is quickly spreading about the tax revolt started by Recoskie and his neighbours, Bob Johnson and Winton Roberts. Some residents who have already paid their property taxes are vowing to refuse to pay their next instalment in October.

Snow Road resident John Kittle is one of those residents.

"It [the tax revolt] will spread very quickly," Kittle said yesterday. "It's starting small, but we know there are literally thousands in the area against mining in the area and are looking for council to support us."

Thousands of people have already signed a petition against the mine, so it's not a big leap to think they would be willing to do more, he said.

The issue has divided the community and its township council between those who support the idea of a mine and those who fear it will destroy the local watershed and devalue properties.

Members of the Ardoch and Shabot Obaadjiwan First Nations have occupied the proposed mine site since June 29, the national aboriginal day of action.

Oakville-based Frontenac Ventures has been prospecting for uranium there, but has been blocked from entering by the Algonquins.

They say the provincial government shouldn't have allowed Frontenac Ventures to prospect there before consulting with them because the land belongs to them.

According to an agreement signed by the British in 1763, any land not sold to or surrendered to the Crown belongs to their native allies.

Frontenac Ventures is suing the Algonquins for $77 million and is seeking a court order that would permanently force the protesters off their land.

Last week, Ontario Superior Court judge Gordon Thomson issued a temporary order for the Algonquins to remove all their gear from the site, but didn't specifically say they must go.

He also didn't authorize the provincial police to remove anyone who disobeyed in hopes the two sides would work out a solution.

When it appeared neither side would negotiate, Thomson issued the interim injunction, which tells the protesters to leave and authorizes police to arrest or remove anyone who contravenes the order.

As of yesterday, the OPP had taken no action.

Recoskie, a retired aircraft mechanic and pilot, bought 60 hectares (150 acres) of property 12 years ago. He was about to expand the small cottage he and his wife, Wanda Recoskie, inhabit and was planning to install a wind turbine and solar panels so they could be self-sufficient.

They're hoping to retire on the property and sell their home in Kemptville, but the Recoskies have put their plans on hold due to concerns that a uranium mine will emerge next to them.

Recoskie has looked into selling his land and visited a real estate agent yesterday to find out how much he could get for the property. "They told me ... they wouldn't be interested in listing it because they're almost certain they couldn't sell it anymore," he said. "I'm paying property taxes on land worth $150,000, but I can't sell it." North Frontenac Township has not taken a stance on the uranium mining issue because council is just as divided on the issue as the community.

Deputy mayor Jim Beam said about half of the people he speaks to are for the mine and half are against. Another large group is against the mine, but is unhappy about the blockade.

Unlike neighbouring councils in Central Frontenac and Addington Highlands, which don't want a uranium mine in the area, North Frontenac has reserved judgment because it believes that responsibility lies with the provincial government.

"Individual councillors have expressed their opinions, but we're still maintaining it's a problem with the Mining Act, which is a provincial act," said Beam, adding that he personally doesn't want to see a uranium mine in the area.

He said tensions are mounting in the community as residents worry about a repeat of Caledonia or Ipperwash.

In Caledonia, police, natives and non-native protesters have clashed over a 17-month aboriginal blockade to protest a housing development that was being built on land local natives claimed as their own.

During the 1995 Ipperwash crisis in Ipperwash Provincial Park, several members of the Stoney Point Ojibway band occupied the park in order to assert their claim to the land.

The occupation led to a violent confrontation between protesters and the OPP, who killed protester Dudley George.

Representatives of Frontenac Ventures and the protesters both spoke at a special township meeting Wednesday and tried to win support from councillors, but Beam said the council will continue to take no official stance.

When he refused to pay his August property taxes Wednesday, Mississippi Station resident Bob Johnson told township staff this would be the first time in almost 40 years that he hadn't paid his taxes on time.

He hopes other local residents will follow his lead in hopes of forcing some level of government to take a stand.

"Nobody wants to own this," said Johnson, a semi-retired businessman and jack-of-all-trades. "Why have we got into this mess? Because we have no ownership."

He doesn't understand why council won't take a position.

"It makes no sense for a township that has been promoting recreation, tourism and retirement for 30 years," he said.

Harold Perry, honourary chief of the Ardoch Algonquins, believes the tax revolt is growing as news of the men's refusal to pay their taxes spreads by word of mouth and the Internet.

"They can't have it both ways," Perry said. "They have to express their position right now."

The Algonquins and their non-native neighbours have been calling upon the premier's office to intervene in the matter, fearing that an attempt to forcibly remove them could lead to violence.

A spokeswoman from the premier's office has said they won't comment specifically on the mine site case because it is before the court.

Anne-Marie Flanagan, press secretary to Aboriginal Affairs Minister David Ramsay, said she can't comment for the same reasons.

However, Flanagan said Ramsay and Minister of Northern Development and Mines Rick Bartolucci, sent a letter to the Algonquins on Wednesday.

In it, the ministers said they couldn't talk about the issue because it's the subject of a legal dispute.

The letter also said the most appropriate forum to discuss the matter would be through ongoing land claims negotiations between a larger Algonquin group that does not represent the Ardoch or Shabot Obaadjiwan Algonquins.

The larger group has been negotiating with the federal government since 1992 over a land claim that encompasses 14,000 square miles of land, including the Parliament buildings and the City of Ottawa.

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