Aggregate Resources Act report: So many holes
We continue to analyze the Standing Committee’s report on the Review of the Aggregate Resources Act and are extremely disappointed. There are no recommendations to protect prime farmland and source water regions. The presentations made by agricultural stakeholders were effectively ignored. As it stands now, another Highland Mega Quarry application could be approved.
FARMLAND: NO PROTECTION
The Ontario Federation of Agriculture’s key recommendations at the public hearings were unequivocal:
1) That the ARA, regulations and operating standards be amended to acknowledge and protect the vital role of our agricultural lands.
2) That aggregate extraction be prohibited on prime agricultural land (Classes 1-4), including Specialty Crop Lands.
NDACT Chair Carl Cosack, farmers Dave Vander Zaag and Brent Preston, Ontario Farmland Trust, the National Farmers Union and other agricultural stakeholders also recommended that aggregate operations not be permitted on prime farmland and in source water regions.
The ARA report contains just four recommendations about agricultural land and they focus on rehabilitating pits and quarries once excavation is over. The report doesn’t include testimony about what happens when prime agricultural soil is stripped and fields are quarried: the farmland that could produce food forever is lost forever.
As well, testimony from the Canadian Environmental Law Association revealed there are nearly 7,000 abandoned pits and quarries in Ontario and, at the current rate of rehabilitation, it would take between 90 and 335 years to rehabilitate all of them.
WATER: NO PROTECTION, NO EA
The ARA review report makes a single recommendation about water: that the Ministry of Natural Resources along with the Ministry of the Environment, conservation authorities and aggregate companies ensure any potential impacts on water resources be appropriately assessed and mitigated where warranted.
The recommendations for protection for source water regions and an automatic Environmental Assessment under the Environmental Assessment Act for significantly below-the-water-table aggregate applications were not included.
Other aspects of the ARA report demonstrate the close relationship between the Committee and the aggregate industry. The report describes 12 aggregate sites visited by the MPPs, but misrepresents the tour taken of the proposed Mega Quarry site.
“The Committee also conducted a viewing of the site of the Highland Companies quarry proposal to extract Amabel dolostone (limestone) in Melancthon Township in Dufferin County.”
This is not accurate as many of you will recall. The Committee spent that morning on a private, guided tour of aggregate sites south of Orangeville, but declined an invitation to visit the Class 1 farmland at the centre of the most controversial aggregate application in Ontario history. Instead, the MPPs drove north on Hwy 124 for a few minutes, then turned around and drove south. A photo in the report of a Highland Companies’ barn was apparently taken from the MPPs’ bus.
The Committee also thanks the aggregate industry, the Ontario Stone, Sand and Gravel Association in particular, for its help in organizing the tours and input in the review. Unfortunately, no such courtesies are extended to the many and respected agricultural stakeholders who participated in the process.
While disappointing on several levels, the report is not binding. The Minister of Natural Resources can accept or reject the recommendations. We will respond to the Committee’s report in a Call to Action next week. Stay tuned!