Photo: Magnus von Koeller/flickr
Credit: Magnus von Koeller/flickr

The Reform Gravel Mining Coalition (RGMC) recently launched their petition—Demand A Moratorium Now (DAMN)—because members are outraged by the lack of provincial regulations and oversight.

Graham Flint, co-chair of RGMC, has worked in several sectors including oil and gas, high tech, and renewable energy. Flint has been battling quarries for over two decades.

It started with a nine-year battle to fight a quarry in his community of Flamborough, a district in the City of Hamilton, Ontario. Flint was outraged by the entire process and began working with Gravel Watch Ontario where he has been president for the past six years.

Flint joined RGMC to raise issues of gravel mining across Ontario and to demand government action.

Flint’s co-chair is Juno-winning singer, songwriter, water protection and extractive industries activist, Sarah Harmer, who grew up in rural Burlington, Ontario.

Seventeen years ago, Harmer and her community spoke up for the farmlands, endangered wetlands, plants and animals, and the well water that was being threatened by a massive gravel mining proposal planned for picturesque Mount Nemo. Located on the top of the Niagara escarpment in North Burlington, Mount Nemo is a United Nations Educational, Scientific and Cultural Organization (UNESCO) World Heritage Site.

The initial quarry proposal was soundly defeated by all levels of government in 2012 after eight years of study and review at a cost of millions of public dollars. But, a mere nine years later, quarry owners thought they’d give it one more try.

Aggregates include the mining and collection of stones, sand, and gravel. The RGMC decided to use the term gravel because most people relate to that.

Gravel can be blasted from solid rock formations or scooped up from loose deposits. Then, it’s washed, loaded on trucks and delivered to market. Transportation is the largest part of the overall price so owners want their mines close to the end user or market, but they also want them close to their competition.

That leads to land banking and sites far in excess of what is actually needed. Ontario has a formal provincial planning policy that states there is no requirement to show need for a new gravel mining site.

The province has authorized annual extraction limits of over 13 times the actual amount of gravel used in Ontario annually. This calculation does not account for the 15 per cent of aggregate sites that have been granted unlimited extraction tonnage limits.

Every year, over 5,000 acres of new land is licenced for gravel mining. That’s equivalent to about 7,000 football fields. The extraction process is also licensed to take up to 4.6 billion litres of water each day.

Then, there’s dealing with the 160 million tonnes of aggregates produced each year. That amount of aggregate could fill enough trucks to circle around the entire world six times.

A number of municipalities are currently locked in appeals with the gravel industry over property taxes. In Puslinch township, just south of the City of Guelph, a single-family home owner pays more property tax than a 100-acre gravel mine. This shifts the burden of property tax from major industries onto small businesses and residents.

Gravel mining is destroying natural habitats and damaging communities across Ontario. Those communities are coming together to demand the destruction and injustices end.

Ontario’s permissible policies mean entire landscapes are degraded and the complex web of life they support put at risk. Wetlands and well water can dry up or become contaminated.

On April 4, in Wilmot Township, a vote will be held at town council regarding the proposed Hallman quarry. This open pit mine will destroy 150 acres of prime farmland, threaten a regional ground water recharge area, municipal well-head protected area, protected countryside and a significant wetland.

Seven open pit mines are located directly across from the proposed pit. The most disturbing part of this scenario is that the existing seven pits are only extracting ten per cent of their licenced capacity. There is not need for another pit in this community.

Ontario has less than two per cent of its land designated prime farmland. Farming in Ontario is a massive industry contributing to the provincial gross domestic product (GDP). While creating jobs within the agricultural sector these lands also create jobs, income and GDP in related industries.

The province’s own document states, “Extraction of minerals and petroleum resources is permitted in prime agricultural areas provide that the site will be rehabilitated.” But once farmland is excavated it cannot be rehabilitated and is lost forever. Placing profit for a company over the environmental and income expenses incurred by an entire community and farming industry is an outright attack on the social commons.

In the case of Mount Nemo, the aggregate corporation has plans to gift the land in stages to the City of Burlington. The plan is to create a park larger than High Park in Toronto.

Nowhere on the site does it mention who will cover the costs of this expansive and expensive rehabilitation. The site also fails to inform readers that filling quarry lakes can take hundreds and hundreds of years. So, who will be around to make sure the company follows through on these multi-generational commitments? For the most part, these multi-national companies are foreign owned and conduct business without regulations. They are literally paving the way for Doug Ford’s highway projects and unmitigated suburban sprawl all at a massive cost to the environment and in the midst of a climate crisis.

According to Tim Gray, executive director of Environmental Defence, “The 2018 Conservative provincial government, in my opinion, has been the most regressive government on these issues, on environmental files, that I’ve worked with in 30 years of working across the country.”

Gray went on to say, “They immediately set to work to unwind environmental protection going backwards on policies that concentrate development within cities and on commitments to decrease the use of highways. And, a big part of these regressions, involve the aggregate industry.”

The aggregate industry knew that once Ford was elected, he would give them whatever they asked for like rolling back endangered species protection; removing municipalities from decision-making around quarries; running rough shot over communities.

RGMC is calling for a moratorium on all new gravel mining approvals across the province. The coalition would like the provincial government to convene an independent panel of experts to chart a new path forward that takes into consideration the impacts to communities, the environment, as well as climate change and is rolled out in a responsible and sustainable way.

According to Gord Pinard, President of Conserving Our Rural Ecosystem (CORE Burlington), “The current regulations overseeing the gravel mining approval process are complicated, hard to navigate, and favour the aggregate industry. The many gravel mining communities across Ontario face real issues. Despite being small, underfunded groups, we deserve to be heard, rather than having our opinions and concerns overwhelmed by well-resourced, multinational aggregate companies and politicians biased in their favour. What may look like a scattering of random community quarry-fights is, in fact, symptomatic of a systemic, Ontario-wide dysfunction arising from antiquated regulations that lean heavily in favour of those corporations that seek profit through the mining of gravel.”

The need for product is not driving this industry—instead, it’s profits over people, nature and precious farmland.

The community of Rockwood has spent $800,000 to get a finding which points out the downside of living in a quarry community but that still found in favour of the quarry. Rockwood is now dealing with a second 124-acre quarry to be situated on prime farmland. That’s equivalent to 93 football fields.

This quarry will sit on the Paris-Galt Moraine and have the potential to contaminate municipal wells.

Acton, located nine kilometers from Rockwood, has a quarry that is currently closed due to insufficient demand.

There is also a proposal to revive a Campbellville quarry that has been inactive for over 20 years. The company’s license was actually revoked in 2008. The original quarry property has transformed back into a natural habitat enjoyed by the neighbourhood that established itself around this naturalized space during that dormancy. Campbellville is about 20 kilometers south of Rockwood.

Along Lake Huron in the Township of the North Shore is located a sensitive habitat that is home to Blanding turtles. This wetland and its endangered inhabitants are under threat from a quarry.

Until there is transparency and accountability in decision-making processes and the operational activity of gravel mining operators, RGMC believes a moratorium needs to be put in place to safeguard the needs of all stakeholders.

Environmental lawyer, David Donnelly, points out that, “Bill 108 removed municipalities rights to regulate quarries on Crown Land or to regulate below water table extraction and removes the wear and tear to haul routes as a consideration.”

Overwhelmingly, RGMC members believe that no should mean no! RGMC members are questioning why they have to fight to have their own provincial government protect them and endangered farmland, wetlands, and at-risk species?

Pinard believes, “The DAMN campaign will give the many Ontario gravel mining communities who have exhausted themselves battling the powerful aggregate lobby, a strong and united voice in the fight to bring 20th century aggregate regulations into line with the ecological-consciousness that is essential to our survival going forward.”

If you care about your ecological backyard, or your neighbour’s, or your children’s future, then sign the DAMN petition!

Doreen Nicoll

Doreen Nicoll is weary of the perpetual misinformation and skewed facts that continue to concentrate wealth, power and decision making in the hands of a few to the detriment of the many. As a freelance...