How does one effectively bite the hand that feeds, ensuring a point is made, but avoiding the bottom dropping out of the region’s crucial manufacturing hub?

That’s the life those in Winchester have lived in recent years, some say decades, as Parmalat’s growth has been championed. Keeping lockstep with the expansion has been the constant complaints from those in the vicinity of the plant.

An ultrafiltration system has allowed Parmalat to bring in milk as-is, which has led to significant rise in truck traffic.

Noise and dust are a constant complaint, as are the transport trucks manoeuvring narrow village streets, first constructed in a time when horse and buggy was the primary mode of travel.

Coupled with this has been odour, an exhausting eminence from the plant’s nearby wastewater facility. More production means more effluent, and if the sludge cannot be spread on area fields during a specific window of time in the spring and the fall, it’s a melting pot in the lagoon, especially during the summer’s heat.

Parmalat did itself a world of favours by hosting a town hall meeting last week, finally coming clean on what’s being done at the plant and in some instances, what isn’t being done.

Before that, the public was left to linger in place where humanity and civility has often gone to die – Facebook. Groups like “What’s up, Winchester?” serve, more often than not, as nothing more than a breeding ground for rumours and speculation. Gone is constructive conversation, replaced instead with flagrant innuendo and irresponsible misinformation.

For most, however, this is the only route they were afforded. Stonewalling has long been a tactic used by Parmalat’s management and public relations professionals. So quiet were they that you’d believe state secrets were at risk of being revealed.

Equally muted were those who feel that speaking up would serve as the tipping point toward Parmalat pulling up its stakes and leaving the town high and dry. So many could only look on helplessly as Nestle left Chesterville, and no one is prepared to watch that happen again.

Losing industry is a fear for any area. Yet, staying silent when serious issues arise shouldn’t be seen as the only avenue.

Should we be thankful Parmalat and its more than 250 jobs are in Winchester? Of course we should be.

Though, in the same vein, we should expect good corporate stewardship.

Last week’s meeting can no doubt be seen as the first step toward healing, and repairing what in recent years has become a broken relationship.

This doesn’t mean residents should let their guard down, and nor should plant officials believe simple sentiments and plans for rehabilitation will soothe old scars.

The community sees you Parmalat. We’re watching and we’re waiting. It’s your move.

– M.U.