Photo: More Melancthon mega-quarry mysteries

The proposed Highlands quarry expects to withdraw 600 million litres of water from the site each and every day, and blast one billion tonnes of rock from the ground below (Credit: Cindy47452 via Flickr).

By John Werring

UPDATE: The new regulation designating the Highland Companies' proposed mega-quarry as being subject to scrutiny under the Ontario Environmental Assessment Act has been posted on the government of Ontario's Environmental Registry.

A proposal to dig a massive mega-quarry in southern Ontario has generated a truly massive amount of opposition. More than 140,000 people have signed a petition to stop the Melancthon mega-quarry, and the province's Ministry of Natural Resources received 2,051 formal objections during a 45-day commenting period. Another 3,735 comments about the project were channelled through Ontario's Environmental Registry, which was set up to allow the public to comment on major projects.

The ranks of vocal critics of the mega-quarry has swelled to include an impressive array of artists, farmers, local residents, First Nations, MPs, MPPs, town councils, and groups like the David Suzuki Foundation and Council of Canadians. On Monday, August 29, more than 120 people, including First Nations representatives and about a dozen municipal councilors, gathered in Orangeville, Ontario, to hand over petitions against the mega-quarry to the local Conservative MP and MPP.

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The ranks will likely continue to grow in the fall as more than 70 of Canada's best chefs participate in Foodstock, a pay-what-you-can event in support of the movement to stop the mega-quarry.

With this tidal wave of opposition, a couple of mysterious technical issues should not overlooked.

First, I was intrigued by former Highland Companies' spokesperson, Michael Daniher's assertion in the Orangeville Banner this summer that the company he represented is above the law.

In this article, Daniher argued that the proposal need not undergo an environmental assessment because those are only applicable to public-sector projects, and are only extended to private commercial ones if other approval processes fail to cover the projects. If that is what this company's representatives believe, they are naive.

The proposed Highlands quarry expects to withdraw 600 million litres of water from the site each and every day, and blast one billion tonnes of rock from the ground below. This will alter, disrupt and destroy fish and wildlife habitats and significantly impact the groundwater resources for several watersheds.

Under Canada's Fisheries Act, the act of carrying out a work or undertaking that results in the harmful alteration, disruption or destruction of fish habitat is a federal offence. It matters not that the affected habitat is on private or Crown land, or whether the undertaking is carried out by private individuals or corporations or public ones.

That said, one can be exempted if the proposed work or undertaking is approved by the only governing authority with the mandate to allow such activity, Fisheries and Oceans Canada (DFO).

However, such a permit is an automatic trigger under the Canadian Environmental Assessment Act and requires that an environmental assessment take place. So, unless the Highland Companies plans to operate illegally, it must obtain a permit from the DFO.

Speaking of habitat destruction, in my formal letter of objection to the Ontario Ministry of Natural Resources and Highlands in April, I pointed out that in 2008 Highland's consultants had observed bobolinks breeding in their study area and within the boundaries of the proposed quarry.

These industrious black songbirds are known to travel up to 1,800 kilometres in a single day during their 20,000 kilometre migration from South America.. In September 2010, the Government of Ontario listed bobolink as a threatened species under the Ontario Endangered Species Act, thereby protecting both the bird and its habitat.

However, despite having found bobolinks on site three years earlier, and never completing formal habitat surveys in the area, Highland's consultants reported that bobolink habitat was "limited to non-existent inside the proposed license area."

As a biologist with 29 years of experience, I recommended that before any approvals for this project are even considered, the company should be required to redo its breeding bird surveys and map the locations and provide detailed habitat descriptions for any areas where bobolink are observed.

If the Highland Companies officials believe that the billion-tonne mega-quarry will not have a negative impact on the environment — including the habitat of local fish species and the imperiled bobolink — they should prove it by undergoing the scrutiny that such a project deserves.

September 1, 2011

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Aug 25, 2012
7:28 AM

Why, oh why does someone with the pertinent facts not start an Avaaz community petition? And why do those in the area not talk with the First Nations people across Canada (going to the Grand Chief), explaining the environmental impact of this situation … and get their support?

Dec 10, 2011
7:26 PM

I am forced to debate for the mega quarry and I have never been in a bigger moral dilemma

Dec 01, 2011
9:08 AM

I too, believe that the Federal Government must play a part in making sure this mega quarry does not get beyond the “proposal” stage. The Aggregate Act must be updated as well. Mining may be important, but it must never trump our precious freshwater and Class A farmland. The people of Ontario are saying “no mining” where our land and water are placed at risk. In this case, we’re also talking about drinking water for over a million Ontario citizens. This is not Nimby-ism. I live in Toronto—no where near proposed quarry but am opposed to mining in this area and any area in Ontario where our land and water are put at risk. I understand that the David Suzuki Foundation have been given $20,000 towards helping to stop this quarry proposal. I will be pleased to see their help. I sent mail to Dept of Fisheries and Oceans and they politely sent me a “canned” response. We will stay vigilant on this. Bravo to Suzuki Foundation and all of the “no mega quarry folks !

Oct 21, 2011
4:33 AM

I realized that this is a very large environmental issue. But before people jump to conclusions, all the fact should be stated an on the table. All the negatives have already been talked about and posted to various website. But what about all the positives, job creation, inexpensive rock/stones/whatever else, which will drive down the cost of this material to build highways/ residential and commercial constructions to name a couple.

This not in my back-yard syndrome is an issues that people in Canada have and have long been documented. Shipping garbage from Toronto to Michigan, the stopping of the Allen Express, etc… If the Quarry is net benefit to the people in the local community and to the people in Ontario it should be build, if it is not, then is should not. All the issues both pro and con should be though about before a decisions is made.

Oct 17, 2011
7:50 AM

I fish in the Pine River I know that there are Brook Trout and I have seen huge Salmon in the pine, spawning in October. It would be ruined forever.

Oct 08, 2011
8:42 AM

Where is the location of the Mega quarry?

Sep 06, 2011
3:12 PM

Thanks for your comments all.

On the issue of Bobolinks and the need to do new breeding bird surveys and habitat assessments for these particular birds I have asked the company for their most recent bird survey results, which they publicly say were carried out this year, and I have had no reply.

I also toured the site of the proposed quarry on August 20th, 2011 and I noted that many of the long-grass habitats that were mowed down in May-June (during the height of the bird breeding season) are being allowed to re-grow. It makes one question why they were cut down in the first place.

With regards to fisheries, I have sent my letter of objection referred to in my blog to the federal Department of FIsheries and Oceans. In typical fashion they have not responded but it is my sincere wish that they turn their minds to this issue because, in my opinion, this project will affect fisheries in several rivers including the PIne, the Grand and the Nottawasaga (It will also affect the fish and fish habitat in dozens of small streams and lakes situated downslope of the proposed project).

Rest assured that we will remain vigilant on this issue.

Sep 02, 2011
6:55 PM

In addition to destroying bobolink habitat, one might say that they have destroyed human habitat. As they acquired farms, they destroyed and burned every building on them. Locals watched in dismay as houses built by the local pioneer farmers disappeared in clouds of black smoke, That, and the gigantic hole will erase any evidence of generations of families in the area.

Sep 02, 2011
6:47 PM

I believe that the habitat which attracts bobolinks to the area is uncut pasture grasslands as they nest down in the grasses. Apparently this company has systematically plowed over the pasture land on their holdings and therefore are likely to find no bobolinks on their properties. They took care of that problem a while ago.

Sep 02, 2011
7:15 AM

Thanks so much to Dr. Werring for this posting-

We are grateful to the Government for this added level of scrutiny. However, having an Environmental Assessment for a proposal of this magnitude should be automatic and not something that our government has to quickly slap on just prior to an election. My family has property abutting the acreage of this proposal and have recently noticed an abundance of bobolinks on our property, as they are flushed from the site by the Highland/ Baupost — by clearing woodlots, hedgerows and ditches of their habitats. Can the DSF do anything to draw in the Department of Fisheries and Oceans to protect the spawning grounds of the Nottawasaga from the high risks faced by this proposal? We need a Federal Review as well!

Sep 02, 2011
4:53 AM

This is great news. Congats to all involved

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