OMB Splits 2-1 in Approving Massive Walker Quarry on Niagara Escarpment
OMB Splits 2-1 in Approving Massive Walker Quarry on Niagara Escarpment: Decision sets “perilous course” for increased development on Escarpment
Collingwood, ON – Environmentalists are shocked by a split decision (2-1) of the Joint Board approving a massive, new 42-million tonne aggregate quarry located at the very highest point of the Niagara Escarpment, near Duntroon, Ontario.
The 263-page decision includes an unprecedented 100-page Dissenting Reasons from Environmental Review Tribunal (ERT) Member Mr. Robert V. Wright, the only Escarpment Commission Hearing Officer (ECHO) amongst the two other Ontario Municipal Board (OMB) members who sat through the 15-month hearing.
Ominously, Member Wright wrote in his dissenting minority decision:
The majority decision in this matter sets a perilous course for increased development in the NEP Area that is not compatible with the natural environment of the Niagara Escarpment and land in its vicinity.
Member Wright calls the Escarpment the “geological backbone of southern Ontario."
The Niagara Escarpment Plan (NEP) is the law of Ontario. The minority decision labels the NEP an “environmental conservation plan” that lays out strict tests for minimal impairment of the environment as a condition of development, including the proposed quarry.
Member Wright zeroed in on the critical failure of the two OMB members to address the NEP correctly in their majority decision:
The findings and conclusion of my [OMB] colleagues reject the development control approach, and fail to analyze crucial aspects of this development proposal through the lens of the statutory provisions of the NEPDA [Niagara Escarpment Planning and Development Act] and the policies of the NEP. The practical result is that the specific provisions and policies of the NEPDA and the NEP that protect the natural environment of the Niagara Escarpment and land in its vicinity are either wrongly equated with the PPS [Provincial Policy Statement] requirements, or given little, or no, legal effect, and the more general province-wide policies of the PPS are applied by default.
Failing to apply the law correctly can be considered an “error of law” and is grounds for appeal. The OMB also erred by finding the quarry will produce only “minor or temporary” impacts to the Escarpment’s natural system. Member Wright disagreed with the OMB, stating “The complete removal of features and functions such as a significant woodland, spring and portion of a stream are not “minor and temporary”.” The Niagara Escarpment Commission (NEC), citizens’ and environmental groups, both conservation authorities responsible for two different local watersheds, and the Environmental Commissioner of Ontario all agreed the impacts were either unacceptable or unknown, and all testified in opposition to the Walker Quarry.
The Aggregate Resources Act licence (if issued) allows 2.5 million tonnes of annual extraction, making it one of the largest in Canada. Member Wright also raises the alarm about the OMB’s protection of water resources, stating that “to say that a portion of SW2 [significant wetland] spring and stream system on site can be removed without any negative impacts is a non sequiter.”
“A huge new quarry planning to harvest limestone from deep in Ontario’s famed Niagara Escarpment is another chapter in an ongoing natural resources policy disaster,” said Dr. Rick Smith, Executive Director of Environmental Defence. “The decision proves the health of the Niagara Escarpment cannot be left in the hands of the OMB."
“Our community and the NEC put on a very strong case against this quarry, highlighting both the environmental and safety threats posed by such a massive new extraction and haul route in our community, we’re in a state of disbelief,” said Janet Gillham, President of the Clearview Community Coalition (CCC). "The CCC's vision for Clearview Township is based on the natural heritage advantage that the Niagara Escarpment could provide if it was protected.”
“We’re seeking legal advice regarding an appeal. This decision sends a pretty clear signal to the world – Ontario is failing to provide the Niagara Escarpment with the recognition and protection it deserves,” Gillham added. “The Walker quarry will be massive, posing the same if not greater risks than the proposed Melancthon mega-quarry just down the road,” said David Donnelly, counsel to CCC and Environmental Defence.
“The experts and staff of the NEC, its Commissioners and the ECHO all agreed this quarry will cause unacceptable ecological loss to the Niagara Escarpment. Residents have a right to expect that this consensus should have led to a decision to protect one of Ontario's few UNESCO World Biosphere Reserves,” Donnelly added.
The Board acknowledged the significance of the world’s largest known colony of American Harts Tongue Fern on the quarry property.
Environmentalists are renewing their call to have the species listed as threatened or endangered under the Endangered Species Act.
For more information, or to arrange an interview, contact: Stephanie Kohls, Communications Director, Environmental Defence, 416-323-9521 ext. 232; 647-280-9521 (cell); firstname.lastname@example.org