Legal proceedings are expected to begin in two weeks in Quebec City as Lafarge attempts to quash the Quebec government's authorization of the project at Port-Daniel-Gascons, Que., without an environmental assessment hearing.
Two environmental groups joined Lafarge's challenge last summer but have now agreed to withdraw from the legal action in exchange for entering into mediated talks with McInnis. The two sides have agreed to form a committee that will address long-term emissions of greenhouse gases and other contaminants as well as protections for marine animals.
"The mediation process that McInnis has committed to will make larger environmental gains than what could be hoped for from a legal judgment at this late stage of the project," said Michel Belanger, a lawyer for the environmentalists.
Lafarge Canada has said the new cement plant threatens jobs at its plant near Montreal and at other plants across the province. McInnis CEO Christian Gagnon has said Lafarge's true aim is to slow the arrival of a new competitor.
"The withdrawal of the environmental groups is leaving Lafarge alone in the legal proceedings and highlight its non-competitive purpose," Gagnon said in a statement announcing the truce with the environmental non-profits.
McInnis says the new plant will generate 20 per cent less greenhouse gas per tonne of cement than the North American average. The plant's capacity will start at 2.2 million tonnes of cement and could reach more than 2.5 million tonnes. It is slated to open in the fall of 2016.
Although it could also produce two per cent of Quebec's greenhouse gas emissions at full production, and about six per cent of its industrial emissions, the company says those numbers would gradually be reduced as biomass replaces up to half of the fuel burned.
McInnis Cement was formed by members of the family that founded Bombardier Inc. (TSX:BBD.B) and its spinoff, Ski-Doo maker BRP Inc. (TSX:DOO). It has received financial support from successive Parti Quebecois and Liberal provincial governments as well as the Caisse de depot pension fund manager.
Former premier Pauline Marois agreed to provide a guaranteed loan worth about $250 million. The province's investment arm will invest $100 million and the Caisse will also invest $100 million as equity partner in the Beaudier Group, the investment arm of the Beaudoin family.
McInnis said last fall that the project would be at risk if it forced to suspend work to conduct what it called unnecessary environmental hearings. Supporters claim the project is subject to old environmental rules in place when it was first proposed more than 20 years ago, even though the plant's capacity has more than doubled.