MNR Capacity and Walker Quarry Rehabilitation Plans Face Criticism
Collingwood, ON – Yesterday, the Environmental Commissioner of Ontario Gord Miller confirmed that the Ministry of Natural Resources (MNR) does not have the manpower or technical capacity to administer the Aggregate Resources Act. This testimony was a defining moment in years of conflict between the provincial government and an environmental community opposed to destructive quarries in Ontario.
“Longstanding questions about the siting of new aggregate quarries and the lack of environmental protection were answered in favour of the environment today by the Commissioner,” said Dr. Rick Smith, executive director of Environmental Defence.
“We agree with the Commissioner that a new quarry by Walker Industries at the sensitive headwaters of three rivers and the habitat of rare and endangered species is not the right place for a massive new quarry. We agree also that there are many other places - than the highest point of the Niagara Escarpment - to put a 42 million tonne greenfields quarry,” he added.
The Commissioner was critical of the lack of rehabilitation of quarries, and the absence of any standards to properly assess claims that destroying Significant Woodland and Wildlife Habitat and replacing them with newly planted woodlands ("aforestation") could be called “net gain.” He also agreed with the Niagara Escarpment Commission, Grey Sauble Conservation Authority and Nottawasaga Conservation Authority that the proponent’s Adaptive Management Plan and Planning Act application is “incomplete.”
The Commissioner was also questioned about the conclusion of the Ontario Municipal Board (OMB) in the Rockfort decision, where the Board denied a new quarry application because, as stated by Chair Susan Campbell, “having one MNR Aggregate Technical Specialist in the Aurora District Office for 146 licensed pits does not fill the Board with confidence.”
The Walker Quarry is administered out of the Midhurst District Office that also employs one Aggregate Specialist with responsibility for 180 pits. The Commissioner agreed with the MNR’s own report that anything over 150 pits is “not preferred.”
“The Commissioner has given real life to the Environmental Bill of Rights with his vigilance over this industry and the regulator,” said Ruth Grier, the former Minister of the Environment and a very early advocate for an Ontario Bill of Rights.
“This ECO testimony has provided unbiased and clear grounds to refuse this application at this time, in this place,” Grier added.
The Board asked the Commissioner if, as a result of this lack of capacity, quarries should be banned on the Niagara Escarpment.
The Commissioner answered that quarries should be allowed in areas that do not have complex ecosystem characteristics like sensitive headwaters and hydrogeology, Significant Wildlife Habitat and Significant Woodland. He stated there are “many, many other areas for quarrying,” other than the proposed site at the very top of the Niagara Escarpment.
Another important statement by the Commissioner supported the claim that very little of southern Ontario is off-limits to quarries.
The Commissioner was summonsed in 2010 by the Clearview Community Coalition (CCC) at the Joint Board (Ontario Municipal Board and Environmental Review Tribunal) hearing into a quarry expansion proposed by Walkers Industries near Duntroon.
The proposed 42 million tonne quarry site is steps from the highest point on the Niagara Escarpment.
“A few more myths about quarries and environmental protection were taken down today with the Commissioner’s testimony,” said David Donnelly, counsel to Environmental Defence and the CCC.
“We’re very pleased with the result for our client, and the environmental community,” Donnelly added.
In past Annual Reports, the Environmental Commissioner of Ontario has been very critical of the MNR and the aggregate industry for poor environmental performance, enforcement and ecosystem planning.
For more information, or to arrange an interview, contact: Stephanie Kohls, Environmental Defence, 416-323-9521 ext. 232, 647-280-9521 (cell)