A photo of a gravel mine, like the one that DAMN is campaigning against.
Photo of a gravel mine. Credit: distelAAPArath / pixabay

Happy Earth Day!

While there’s not much to celebrate when it comes to environmental issues in Ontario, make time to go out doors to enjoy some spring flowers, birds and bees.

When you come inside, get onto your computer and sign the DAMN (Demand A Moratorium Now) petition on the issuing of new licenses for gravel mining.

This week, I spoke with Graham Flint, co-chair of Reform Gravel Mining Coalition (RGMC).

We talked about the DAMN campaign, which launched in February of 2022, calls for a temporary prohibition on gravel mining licenses.

“The DAMN campaign is such a reasonable request. Gravel mining is a contributor to the bigger issues we’re dealing with – climate change, biodiversity loss – it’s all those kinds of things,” said Flint. “Gravel is the feed stock for the cement industry which is a huge contributor to greenhouse gases on a global basis. So, there’s a lot of reasons why now is a good time to do this,” he went on to say.

In order to reform the gravel mining industry, the provincial government needs to stop issuing new licenses. That in turn would end the scarring of thousands of acres of land. It would save communities from the pain, aggravation and financial hardship of trying to protect their community.

RGMC has received outstanding support from municipal councils across the province. Unfortunately, planning staff and applicants are challenging municipal councils claiming that all the right boxes have been checked. That has led some councils to ask if the right questions are being asked, and, if the right boxes are on the list?

Municipalities have been handcuffed by provincial policy at the highest level of planning doctrine that states that, when it comes to the gravel mining industry, it is unnecessary to show need for a new pit or quarry.

“That’s an amazing, and I would say, absurd proposition in this day and age. I mean, gravel mining is not a benign activity. It fundamentally destroys the existing natural environment and it can never be recreated and put back together,” said Flint.

The provincial government has issued gravel mining licenses to produce 13 times the amount of gravel that is consumed annually. Those licenses lead to an additional 5,000 acres of land going to the industry every year. Over the past 20 years (2000 to 2021), 100,000 acres have been given to the aggregate gravel mining industry.

Over the past two decades the actual land that has been disturbed through excavation and removal of top soil has increased 67 per cent. At the same time, the amount of aggregate used in Ontario hasn’t really changed.

About 165 million metric tons of aggregate is used annually which may fluctuate in either direction three to five per cent in any given year. From 2011 to 2020 only 157 million metric tons were used annually, but the amount of scarred land massively increased as did approved licenses.

The industry and the province often claim that increasing population is driving up the demand for aggregate. But that’s a lie because the population of Ontario increased only 25 per cent from 2000 to 2020.

Residents living close to the mine site can be impacted by dust, noise, vibrations, light, and truck traffic. Meanwhile the entire community is impacted by poor air quality from diesel exhaust, increased accidents, and wear and tear on their roadways.

That also raises the question of wear and tear on local roads and who is responsible for their upkeep. Once again, it’s not the quarry owners. They don’t even pay their fair share of property taxes.

Puslinch Township, in Wellington County, launched a legal challenge against the Municipal Property Assessment Corporation (MPAC) because a single-family home currently pays more property tax than a 100-acre gravel mine.

“The industry is basically getting a free ride on the backs of residents and small businesses in the community. It’s truly unfair” Flint points out.

Then, there’s the question of who is responsible for rehabilitating retired quarries.

“The subject of rehabilitation is one that, should we obtain the moratorium, really needs to be investigated. The formal statement is, that progressive and final rehabilitation should occur. So, as they are doing their excavation they’re supposed to be rehabilitating. And, final rehabilitation is required before they’re allowed to surrender their license and move on,” said Flint.

Nature and wildlife can’t put their lives on hold for decades waiting for rehabilitation to happen.

“All living life are expatriated from that area and nothing exists and they become moonscapes. So, rehabilitation is frustrating for us because there’s the promise that often doesn’t happen,” said Flint.

Flint calls this, the last cup of gravel philosophy which maintains that as long as an operator thinks there could be one more cup of gravel then they are not 100 per cent done and they don’t have to start that final rehabilitation. This industry mindset has given rise to dormant pits across Ontario.

That was the case in Campbellville, Halton Region, where a thriving neighbourhood grew around what homeowners thought was a naturalized area. Nature had actually reclaimed a gravel pit that had been inactive for over 20 years.

In 2008 the company’s license was revoked. Then, in 2017, James Dick Construction purchased the land with the intention of reactivating the gravel pit. If the application is approved, over 990,000 tonnes of stone, sand and gravel could be accessed via underwater blasting annually.

To date, 11 municipalities have signed onto the DAMN campaign. They include Halton Hills, North Dumfries, Puslinch Township, Milton, Cambridge, Peel Region, Woolwich, North Shores, Zora Township (Ingersoll), Wilmot and Melancthon Township (Dufferin County). More are expected to sign on soon.

What can you do to support the DAMN campaign? Visit the RGMC website to access the tool kit that has everything you’ll need to get a motion in front of your local council.

If you belong to a community group, get members to join activities on the RGMC web page.

Ask candidates what they are going to do about the over licensing, over mining, lack of oversight, and lack of meaningful rehabilitation that’s associated with gravel operations in Ontario?

Finally, celebrate Earth Day by signing the DAMN petition calling for a moratorium on new gravel mining licenses. Then, share it with friends, family, and groups you belong to.

Mother Earth says, thanks!

If you’d like to hear more about Graham Flint’s work with Reform Gravel Mining Coalition, please check out this week’s rabble radio.

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...