“The province has a need [for aggregate] There are licenced reserves that are diminishing and expiring,” Mr. Izhakoff said. “This is a way to, with one project, put forward something that, over a long period of time, will be able to supply high-quality aggregate.”
Most opponents of the Melancthon project don’t dispute that additional aggregate is needed, but they believe the environmental and social toll of this proposal is too high. They point to the degradation of agricultural land, increased truck traffic and potential harm to water – in the ground and in the rivers. The limestone deposit sits well below the water table. Highland would have to pump up and store as much as 600 million litres of water a day to keep the pit’s work surface dry. Ontario’s environment ministry has too expressed concerns about the quarry proposal.
Pit opponent Harvey Kolodny, a professor emeritus with the University of Toronto’s Rotman School of Management, has a message for Highland and the province: Look elsewhere for aggregate.
“It’s monstrous in size. It’s hard for people to comprehend how big the quarry is because nobody has really seen anything of that magnitude,” said Mr. Kolodny, founding director of the Citizens’ Alliance for a Sustainable Environment. Mr. Kolodny and his wife live in a 19th-century farm house north of Mono Mills, about a 45-minute drive from the proposed quarry.
“It’s going to be a major scar on the landscape.”
A looming aggregate crunch
As the Toronto region has grown and quarries have closed, conflicts over new rock-mining proposals have become more intense. Rock quarries no longer operate in Toronto. The city’s remaining deposit is paved over with development.
Canada’s largest working rock quarry is in Milton, alongside the Niagara Escarpment. Provincial cabinet ministers approved a pit expansion in 2006 despite staunch opposition from local environmental groups. The quarry spans 551 hectares.
In more recent years, however, contentious limestone excavation proposals in Caledon and the Hamilton area have been rejected.
Caledon has long been a quarry hub, home to about 1,600 hectares of open pits. But the migration of affluent professionals and retirees from Toronto has changed the town, transforming once-rural land into pricey estates and recreational homes. This group of residents was among the most vocal opponents to a limestone quarry that the Ontario Municipal Board rejected last year in a landmark ruling. The OMB and others questioned whether the Ministry of Natural Resources had adequate staff to monitor the long-term project, which involved extracting stone below the water table.
The Caledon ruling was made not long after the province took an unprecedented measure, using a minister’s zoning order to halt plans for a rock quarry in Flamborough near Hamilton. The case has triggered a $275-million arbitration claim under the North American Free Trade Agreement. St. Marys Cement, part of a multinational firm, alleges the quarry application was quashed for political reasons, noting former Liberal advisers live near the proposed pit.
Highland executives have been watching Ontario’s shifting landscape for rock mining. Backed by the Boston-based hedge fund Baupost Group, Highland has tracked the progress of a government study of aggregate resources. The review, started in 2007, included bureaucrats, industry representatives and conservation groups.
Concluded last year, the study noted provincial consumption of aggregate is projected to increase 13 per cent, to 186 million tonnes yearly, over the next 20 years compared with the previous two decades. In the past, three-quarters of the aggregate has been used to construct roads and buildings and install water mains and sewer pipes.
Concerns about a looming aggregate crunch in the GTA were raised in the review. Relatively few existing aggregate operations contain abundant reserves. Mega-quarries appear to be a workable option that aligns with Ontario’s policy of excavating close to where aggregates are used, the final report stated.
The Ontario Stone, Sand and Gravel Association, the industry’s main lobbying arm, supports the province’s close-to-market goal, especially since many deposits have yet to be touched in Southern Ontario. One of the biggest users of crushed rock, gravel and sand is the Ontario government.