‘End Escarpment Aggregate Extraction’ says Niagara Escarpment Commission
News release from Blue Mountain Watershed Trust
On the eve of its 30th year anniversary, Commissioners of the Niagara Escarpment Commission(NEC) have voted 7-5 to ask the provincial government to end all new aggregate extraction on the Niagara Escarpment, a UNESCO World Biosphere Reserve.
On September 17th, a packed room heard impassioned speeches from several Commissioners that it was time to end the intrusive and highly destructive practice of allowing new below water-table quarries on the Niagara Escarpment.
“Surely it is time to stop treating the Escarpment as a land bank for aggregate extraction” said Ruth Grier, former Minister of the Environment and appellant in support of the Clearview Community Coalition at the recent Walker Aggregates Joint Board hearing.
“Every time we blow a hole in the Escarpment, it’s another hole in Ontario’s credibility as a steward of our most precious and threatened UNESCO Biosphere Reserve,” Grier added. “If the provincial government truly cares about the environment they will heed this call.”
Spurred in part by public outcry over the approval recently of three new mega-quarries on the Escarpment and Escarpment Plan Area, Commissioners acted to stop the most intrusive industrial activity of them all. The Niagara Escarpment Plan is scheduled for a mandated Plan Review in 2015, along with the Greenbelt Plan and Places to Grow legislation.
In recent years, three enormous quarries—the Walker Aggregates Inc. 42-million tonne quarry at the very highest point of the Niagara Escarpment, MAQ 46-million tonne and Harold Sutherland Construction Ltd.—have all been approved. The Walker quarry is on a watershed divide at the headwaters of Batteaux Creek, the Pretty River and the Beaver River—waterways that nourish thousands of acres of farmland and orchards.
The NEC was forced to take the Walker decision to court, after the Joint Board (OMB and ERT) issued a stunning decision of two members of the Joint Board (the “Majority”) that effectively sets aside the Niagara Escarpment Plan (“NEP”), one of the most senior and internationally renowned planning regimes in the world. NEC and the Clearview Community Coalition argued that to virtually ignore the NEP, and to adopt new policies like “net gain” e.g. replacing mature Regionally Significant Woodland with tree plantings, was a serious error of law.
The Commission argued that, “In effect, these errors taken together demonstrate that the Majority sidestepped the Niagara Escarpment Planning and Development Act (“NEPDA”) and NEP, and approached the appeal as though it were a regular planning decision under the Planning Act. The net practical effect of these cumulative errors is that the Majority largely ignored the “special legislative significance” given to the Niagara Escarpment Plan area by the NEP/NEPDA and would permit the removal of 32.8 hectares of provincially significant woodland in what has been designated a World Biosphere Reserve.”
The NEC lost its judicial review of the decision, prompting the successful NEC vote to close an enormous loop-hole that prohibits most kinds of development on the Escarpment, but not quarries.
“Ontarians find it hard to believe the NEC must go to court to fight the Ontario Municipal Board to stop an enormous quarry like Walker Aggregates in one of Ontario’s most protected areas,” said Sarah Winterton of Environmental Defence.
“There are a lot of politicians past and present who take great pride in decades of work to protect this beautiful part of Ontario. Governments of all political stripes worked to produce the Niagara Escarpment Plan, with its unique set of policies and principles”, said Ruth Grier.
“The Plan has stood the test of time but the pits and quarries that were grandfathered in 30 years ago have become mines that are destroying this unique feature of our province. Now is the time for the current government to build on the work of its predecessors and ban new aggregate extraction.””
“The Commissioners have done the right thing by calling for an outright ban on new quarries on the Niagara Escarpment. Rather than fighting these bad quarries proposals one by one, we need an escarpment-wide plan to actually protect this UNESCO World Biosphere Reserve,” said Sarah Harmer of Protecting Escarpment Rural Land.