Saultites on both sides of the border gathered in unity on Saturday afternoon to protest the proposed ferrochrome smelter plant, set to be located on Algoma Steel property starting in 2025, and up and running by 2028.
Locally, approximately 30 people were at the boardwalk by the Delta Hotel, whilst a large group gathered at Ashmun and Portage in Michigan as well to show their support.
“We’re protesting because we do not want a ferrochrome smelter production facility erected in our community, let alone on our fresh water,” protest organizer and No Ferrochrome Plant Sault Ste. Marie FB page admin Lebertine Wilson told SaultOnline.
Wilson said it feels empowering to be part of the driving force behind what, to her knowledge, is the first Canadian-American protest of its kind. Her American counterpart, Tamantha, runs the No Ferrochrome Solidarity Facebook page, which has 150 members.
“I’m smiling more and more as I look around, it’s a little more heartwarming to know,” she said of the turnout.
“I understand it’s cold, but if we don’t take a stance now, it will be too late. The shovels will be in the ground, and there’s no stopping it after that.”
Concerns from protesters included the future of the Great Lakes and the Sault, as well as future generations and the impacts the smelter will have on the environment.
For Elizabeth MacMillan and her son, Jaiduce, the future is a concern.
“I want a good future for me to grow up in,” Jaiduce said.
“I’m here to support not just my kids, but everyone’s children,” MacMillan said.
“There’s been a lot of environmental destruction and damage all in the name of profit, and I just want to prove that the people matter more than the profit.”
MacMillan, who does a lot of educational gardening in schools, said she’s also concerned about water and soil health.
“Anything where we’re adding pollutants to the air – it’s just a recipe for disaster,” she explained.
“We’re also trying to amplify our agriculture around the region – another polluting industry is not going to help that.”
For Bonnie Jewell Barenski, the Sault has been her home for 35 years and is now the home of her children and grandchildren, whom she wants to have the same opportunities she’s had.
“I feel that we live in one of the most pristine, beautiful areas of Ontario. We’re at the hub of the Great Lakes, we benefit from nature, we benefit from the waters, being able to go 10-15 minutes out of town and be at a beautiful beach and swim,” she said.
“Everything I read about this ferrochrome plant and the chromium smelter tells me that (my family) won’t have those opportunities, that it’s poisonous to the land, to the water and the particles are also in the air. So I think we need to stop this, in a peaceful and educated manner.”
Barenski said she also thinks both ecotourism and the housing market in the Sault will suffer with the addition of the smelter plant.
“No one’s going to plan their vacation to spend two weeks next to a ferrochrome plant and the things that flow from it and blow away from it. So right away you’re cutting down one of the things that is going to be one of the major sources of revenue here in the Sault,” she said.
“Another thing that you have to look at is, let’s say you want to leave, because that’s what people are saying to us: ‘if you don’t like it, leave.’ Well who’s going to buy my house when they know there’s a possibility of a plant coming? They’re going to say ‘no, we don’t want to live there.’ So right away I’m going to lose if I decide that I want to sell my house, I’m going to have to take it at a loss. And I shouldn’t have to anyways; this is my home. I’ve lived here 35 years.
“And that’s something I think that City Council and the Mayor are not looking at – the really long-term issues of this plant. Yes, it will provide jobs, but there are so many health concerns, there are all kinds of things attached to those jobs, and it’s just not worth it.”