COLLINGWOOD -- Ontario's environment commissioner says it takes decades -- even centuries -- before a forest ecology can be re-established in an area that was once home to a woodland.
Gord Miller was testifying Monday before the Consolidated Hearings Board reviewing Walker Aggregates' application to expand quarry operations west of Duntroon. Miller, whose job as Environmental Commissioner makes him the province's independent environmental watchdog, was testifying under summons for the Clearview Community Coalition.
Part of Walker's application includes removing existing woodlands in order to expand their facility; however, the application includes a plan to re-forest the area after quarry operations are complete several decades down the road.
Approximately 32 hectares of forest would be removed, and would be replaced by 53 hectares of plantings under Walker's application.
Under questioning by Clearview Community Coalition lawyer David Donnelly, Miller stated it would require several decades for a re-forested area to take on the ecology of a woodland site. He noted while there isn't a similar metric, or measurement, for woodlands as there is for wetlands, a natural woodland area has an ecology that would be difficult to replicate.
"It's extremely difficult to recreate the natural forest... bringing a forest back is a very difficult task," he said. "Are we trying to produce a stand of trees, or (something similar) to a naturallyoccuring forest? It's better than no planted forest, but it's not the same."
He also questioned the accuracy of using the term of 'interim use' of allowing the land to be used for a quarry, given that suggests the land is used for only a short time, and the landscape is returned untouched.
"It implies that something is being returned to its regular use," said Miller, comparing it to temporarily using someone's office, and completely remodelling it. He also testified, in response to Donnelly's line of questioning, that the quarry use could conceivably be in place for more than 100 years, going back to when the original pit opened in the mid-1960s.
"That transcends developments in society and the way we live life; you cannot consider that as an interim use," said Miller.
"You've converted it to something else, and now it's completely different," he said. "The concept of interim use is very misleading."
A quarry, he said, would "change completely the structure of the landscape, and the ecological use of the landscape, to something else."
He added that in his experience, "I'm not aware of any quarry that would satisfy the use of that term."
Miller also testified that the proposed pond planned for the site once quarry operations are complete would be a "limited-function aquatic feature.
"It would function to some extent, but it would not have a lot of the features necessary for a productive lake structure."
Miller testified there is a "competing paradigm" between the Provincial Policy Statement on land-use planning, and the need to take into account landscape features, and the concept of planning, which focuses on a single parcel of land. He said the concept of land use should be made based on how a parcel of land and the proposed use fits within the larger landscape.
In his testimony in the afternoon, Miller expressed a concern about the capacity of the Ministry of Natural Resources to effectively monitor quarry operations.
"The number of aggregate inspectors... is totally inadequate," he said, noting that inspectors are responsible for too many sites, and do not have the capacity to deal with the complex issues involved in monitoring and mitigating impacts of quarry operations.
"There needs to be people in the Ministry of Natural Resources and the Ministry of Environment who can understand and make complex decisions," he said. "I see deficiencies in that regard."
When asked by Donnelly if it is essential to have "this quarry in this location," Miller replied that in his opinion, it was not. While he said that having quarries located close to their markets is a business consideration, there are many con-f licting uses for land in southern Ontario and the close-to-market argument should not override matters of natural heritage.
Miller's testimony was immediately seized upon by environmental groups, who praised the environment commissioner for his statements on the MNR's ability to monitor quarry operations.
"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, in a news release.
"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 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," said Grier, who is also a member of the Clearview Community Coalition.
"A few more myths about quarries and environmental protection were taken down today with the Commissioner's testimony," Donnelly said in a statement released after Miller's testimony to the board.
"We're very pleased with the result for our client, and the environmental community," Donnelly added.
In past Annual Reports, Miller has been very critical of the MNR and the aggregate industry for poor environmental performance, enforcement, and ecosystem planning.
The hearing continues.