A proposal that would have created the second largest open pit mine in North America has crumbled under the weight of six years’ worth of grassroots activism against the southern Ontario (Ont.) project known as the “mega-quarry”.
On November 21, 2012, quarry proponent, The Highland Companies, withdrew its application to mine limestone from 937 hectares of land in Melancthon Township near Orangeville, Ont. In a statement that same day, the company cited a lack of support from government and the public to blast some one billion tonnes of the aggregate from beneath a countryside considered by many Ontarians to be rich farmland.
“While we believe that the quarry would have brought significant economic benefit to Melancthon Township and served Ontario’s well-documented need for aggregate, we acknowledge that the application does not have sufficient support from the community and government to justify proceeding with the approval process,” wrote John Scherer, spokesman for The Highland Companies.
The limestone quarry would have been used to supply aggregate to build roads and homes.
Many project opponents expressed concern about the mega-quarry’s effect on the high local water table, which experts say would have been drained of 600 million litres of water per day to operate the pit (the equivalent of 2.7 million Ontarians using the sink). These underground water layers feed headwaters of key Ontario rivers including the Credit, Humber and Grand rivers.
Dufferin-Caledon MPP Sylvia Jones, provincial representative for the region, made an announcement stating that a strong grassroots campaign against the multi-million dollar quarry project made all the difference.
For years, “Stop the Mega Quarry” signs were a common site in southern Ontario.
“There is a lesson to be learned here: local residents, community groups and municipal councils, can make a difference,” Jones wrote in a November 21, 2012 statement on her riding website. “Concerned residents, artists, musicians, chefs put together hugely successful events like Food Stock, and Soup Stock to raise awareness of their concerns.
“Their cause really became a movement across Ontario and today we can praise their determination and hard work,” Jones added.
Many celebrities, including hundreds of chefs from across Canada, have claimed that the mega-quarry would have a significant impact on local agriculture and the types of food available for the public, notably potato crops. The outcry led to massive protest events such as October 2012’s Soupstock at Woodbine Park, which saw some 40,000 protestors.
“We are ecstatic that the company has bowed to pressure and has committed to farming the land rather than blasting a huge open pit beneath our precious countryside,” said Chef Michael Stadtländer in a statement from the Canadian Chefs’ Congress.
Further to its written statement about pulling out of the quarry project, The Highland Companies indicated it will “continue to focus on its farms and on supplying its customers with high quality potatoes and other crops.” The same November 21, 2012 statement also announced that John Lowndes has resigned from his role as company president.
In a project overview on its website, The Highland Companies wrote: “Melancthon Township is already home to an aggregate industry, with millions of tonnes being produced for customers throughout Ontario. The area features one of the largest deposits of the highest quality Amabel dolostone (limestone) in the province. The presence and nature of this deposit was referenced in the Province of Ontario’s revised Aggregate Resource Inventory Paper (163) for Dufferin County issued in December 2009.”
In an average year, Ontario uses 164 million tonnes of aggregate for urban development. Experts in the development industry are starting to question where the necessary resources are going to come from as the province continues to expand at a rapid pace, particularly in southern Ontario. Aggregate generally includes any combination of sand, gravel and stone in their natural or processed states.
In 2010, Ontario’s Ministry of Natural Resources released a “State of the Aggregate Resource in Ontario Study”. It showed that over the past 20 years, Ontario has consumed more than three billion tonnes of aggregate (about 164 million tonnes per year).
“Given expected levels of economic and population growth, Ontario’s consumption of aggregates is projected to average about 186 million tonnes per year on average over the next 20 years, 13% higher than in the past 20 years,” the study found.
With the mega-quarry project off the table, resources for construction will have to come from somewhere else.
The Ontario government ordered an environmental assessment of the mega-quarry project in September 2011. It was the first of its kind for an Ontario quarry. At the time, the Ministry of the Environment criticized The Highland Companies’ application, saying the mining proposal made claims without the data to back them up.
The environmental assessment had only been in its early stage when The Highland Companies pulled the plug.
The abandoned proposal was sweet news for Faisal Moola, the David Suzuki Foundation’s director general of Ontario and northern Canada. The foundation was a fiery critic of the mega-quarry.
“That the quarry proposal has been stopped is most astounding because it was a truly David-versus-Goliath battle,” Moola announced following news of the project’s demise. “A handful of local farmers and concerned citizens, with the support of organizations like the David Suzuki Foundation and the Canadian Chefs Congress, were pitted against a $25 billion American hedge fund.”
“While we will celebrate this extraordinary victory, the Ontario government must also seize this opportunity to overhaul its antiquated provincial policies for aggregate mining that allowed this outrageous proposal to be considered in the first place,” Moola added. “We must ensure that no other community in Ontario faces the same threats to their water, food and wildlife.”
—-Originally published on EcoLog.com —-