Mega Quarry = Mega Controversy

The former Site 41 dump site in Simcoe County started as a proposal for a big hole in the ground and became controversial over what would be put into it. Now a proposal for a huge hole in North Dufferin County is controversial because of what may come out of it.

Proposed Second Largest Quarry in North America

Back in 2006, farmers were approached to sell their land at a premium, up to $8,000 per acre on the pretext of forming “the province’s largest potato grower”. Eventually, about 7,500 acres (roughly 1/3 the size of Toronto) came to be owned by Highland Companies, an organization backed by a multi-billion dollar hedge fund in Boston. In 2008, the company delivered a letter to Melancthon council advising it planned to “explore additional land uses”. The company has cleared trees and demolished homes and barns. By 2009, The Toronto Star was reporting, “Limestone Quarry Threatens Prime Farm Land” (Toronto Star, December 6, 2009) “What is at stake is the most basic stuff of human life: water, food and family heritage.”.

Quarry 246 feet deep; Blasting 24/7, holidays excepted

“In promotional materials, Highland touts dreams of a four-tiered business that will include adding its own wind turbines to the many already dotting the horizon west of County Rd. 124 and an eventual relaunch of freight-rail service from Toronto to Orangeville to the Great Lakes port of Owen Sound. Presumably the rail lines would be used to ship aggregate.” In 2009, the core project was the mining of 2,400 acres in eight phases of 300 acres each – quarried to a depth of 75 metres (246 feet). The plan now calls for “four extraction areas plus one central section for crushing along with other activities.” Blasting would be conducted 7 days a week, 24 hours per day, statutory holidays excepted, according to NDACT.

Video example of open pit blasting: Earth scientists seek ban on mountaintop mining, Discovery Channel, January 2010

600 million litres of water a day ‘managed’

There are to be 16 pumps to run 24/7 forever to “manage” 600 million litres of water a day (the amount to be pumped is equivalent to what is used by a quarter of the province’s population in a day).

The issue has divided farm communities in the area. Some were glad to sell their land and others welcome the investment and potential employment. But others vigorously oppose the quarry plan:

The North Dufferin Agricultural and Community Taskforce (NDACT) organized a petition, contacted local politicians, “hired an independent planner to assess the consequences for the nearby waterways. They are lobbying the Melancthon, Mulmur and Grey townships to designate their honeywood soils as an “agricultural specialty crop,” which has protected the Holland Marsh against development.”

You are reading about it in Our Innisfil because of where the proposed quarry is located:

The Roof of Ontario

“Sitting on the highest point in Southern Ontario at 1,700 feet above sea level, their lands also border on the headwaters of the Nottawasaga and Grand River systems, meaning any lowering of water levels or water quality at “the Roof of Ontario” could be felt as far away as Hamilton to the south and Georgian Bay to the north.”

According to Aware Simcoe, the quarry “would be the largest and deepest quarry in Ontario, in the headwaters of five major rivers – the Pine, the Grand, the Nottawasaga, the Saugeen and the Beaver. The project is in prime agricultural land (16 per cent of the province’s potato crop is grown here), upstream of over a million people whose water could be affected.”

Although Highland Companies claims that “the dug-out land left … will be re-soiled and returned to an arable state”, others are not so sure. Natural Resources Minister, Linda Jeffery, was quoted as telling local officials, “It is your job to get your community together, get them to think long term about rehabilitation, because this will not be going back to agriculture, but maybe you could get a nice golf course.” NDACT says that under current legislation there is no obligation to rehabilitate the quarry site because it is below the water table.

Just for comparison, the largest Canadian quarry is located on Manitoulin Island. “The operation is part of the aggregates, concrete and asphalt division of Lafarge. “Cargo ships carry the product into the Great Lakes destined for Cleveland, Chicago or Detroit, to the Welland Canal for southern, eastern Ontario and Quebec customers and through to the Sault Ste. Marie locks up to Thunder Bay. In the 1980s, Lafarge Meldrum was quarrying 400,000 tonnes of rock annually but those numbers began escalating in the new millennium, once Asia stopped exporting steel to North America.” In 2009 2.3 million tonnes of dolomite rock (limestone) was crushed, sized and shipped from the company port according to Aggregates & Roadbuilding magazine.

The most immediate concern is that the Ontario government’s comment period, which opened March 11, closes April 26, not enough time, says Aware Simcoe, to evaluate a project with many far-reaching consequences.

Public comment

  • Comments can be made via the province’s online environmental registry. Go to http://www.ebr.gov.on.ca and enter the number 011-2864.
  • To comment in writing, send to Craig Laing, aggregate resources officer, 2284 Nursery Road, Midhurst, Ontario, L0L 1X0.
  • A copy should also be provided to The Highland Companies, Box 377, Shelbourne ON L0N 1S0

Additional Reading:

U.S.-backed company proposes mega-quarry north of Orangeville, Toronto Star, April 25, 2011

NDACT

Citizens Alliance

Aware Simcoe

Council of Canadians

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