What happens when you combine a group of hard-working agriculturalists with a threat to the land they love? You get a serious force to be reckoned with.
Stomp the Mega Quarry was only the most recent event organized to raise funds and promote awareness of the fight against a U.S.-owned hedge fund that wants to dig a 200-foot deep hole in some of Ontario's most bountiful farmland. As if this weren't serious enough, the limestone, worth an estimated $14 billion, the Boston-based Baupost Group wants to gouge out of the earth, is an aquifer that filters the drinking water of over two million people.
Beginning at 8am this past Saturday morning, dozens of people aged 9 to 90 -- including radio personality Dale Goldhawk and Canadian actress Mag Ruffman -- participated in a 5-10km walk/run to support the efforts of Dufferin County residents to prevent a 2,400 acre hole becoming, at best, an eyesore smack in the middle of some of the most beautiful country in Ontario.
'Biggest hold in all of Canada' proposed for beautiful Dufferin County landscape
According to radio host Dale Goldhawk, the wrongness of the mega quarry is a no-brainer.
"We were contacted a year ago, so we looked into this strange project that was proposed in Melancthon Township," explains Goldhawk. "Look at what's happened since then. There've been all kinds of rallies, all kinds of demands that something be done, it's become an election issue and it's now triggered an environmental assessment."
The beauty of the landscape impressed Goldhawk, who completed the 10km route. "Absolutely incredibly beautiful countryside. To think that you would put the biggest hole in all of Canada in that location is atrocious."
People came from all over Ontario to participate. Jon Urvanski and Jessica Lastuk drove three hours from southwestern Ontario to participate in the event. "I grew up around here," says Urvanski. "It's an important movement, since our natural resources are at stake. Some outside agent is trying to come in and overtake them. My family has been living here for over 20 years. The project is lowering property values, has a potentially huge environmental impact, and will disrupt the lifestyle of so many in the community."
'Best farmland in Ontario' at risk
That disruption isn't limited to the destruction of farmland and the aquifer that filters some 600 million litres of water each and every day. Hundreds of trucks will be hauling limestone aggregate along Melancthon school bus routes. Blasting into the aquifer will overwhelm the peaceful community with noise levels unexperienced by anyone in Melancthon. Dust and dirt from the blasting and the truckage will coat everything -- including crops in the remaining farm fields.
Leslie Beech, one of many older women who completed the walk/run, is deeply concerned about the proposed mega quarry. "This is the best farmland in Ontario, and you can't eat rocks." Kathy Noonan, Beech's running partner, has lived in the area for many years. "For me, the main issue is the water. And the beauty of the area. People should come up here and see the beauty here. The thought of it being destroyed is shocking. It's appalling to me."
Donna Bayliss, an anti-quarry organizer and activist, says Ontarians need to have a say in what happens to the land. "I set up a booth at a local market, because people needed to know what was happening. I wanted to inform people about what was being done behind their backs. For me, it's mostly about getting the information out." Bayliss, a treasure trove of information about the major players, local geology and political strategy, believes the entire movement -- including the successful lobby for an environmental assessment (EA) -- will change the way business is done in the province. Getting the environmental assessment was a major victory for the anti-quarry movement.
"Getting the EA is completely unprecedented. We're also trying to get the Act changed. It's 40 years old, and everything has changed since then." In Ontario, you need an environmental assessment to build a house, but you can dig a hole the size of 2,000 football fields into an aquifer in the middle of prime farmland without any kind of assessment. "Forty years ago we weren't really worried about where our food came from, Walkerton hadn't happened. The technology for this scale of project wasn't there, the infrastructure wasn't there, so we need to change that law to adapt to the current reality."
Melancthon Township isn't the only community fighting against quarry activity. In Paris, Ontario there is a pit whose license has been dormant for nearly 40 years. Now the owners want to reopen the pit. During the decades of dormancy, development has moved residential housing much closer to the site than people lived decades ago, and local citizens are fighting against the revival of the license. In Tottenham, Ontario, the original owners of an aggregate pit were committed to returning the site to its original state. New owners have since taken over and they want to blast below the water table. "There are a lot of places that are fighting back," says Bayliss. "[The mega quarry] just highlights one of many concerns."
In the coming months, and years, it will prove interesting just how influential these residents of rural Ontario can be. The proposed mega quarry is the first in Ontario to be the subject of an environmental assessment. This sets the precedent for changes to the Aggregate Resource Act, which will strengthen environmental protection in the province at a time when our federal government is dismantling environmental protection legislation.
"We have a long way to go,” says Bayliss, "but we're optimistic."
Meg Borthwick is a freelance writer and moderator for rabble’s discussion forum, babble. Photos courtesy of Elizabeth Littlejohn.