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Ministry calls for full environmental assessment by mega quarry proponents

by David Meyer

TORONTO - A huge quarry slated for Melancthon Township will be delayed for some time after the Ministry of Environment called for a full environmental assessment of the plan last week.

In an email announcement, Minister of Environment John Wilkinson stated, “After careful consideration, [Minister of Natural Resources Linda Jeffrey] and I have agreed to bring forward a regulation making Highland Companies subject to the requirements of the Environmental Assessment Act.

“As a result the company will be required to undertake a comprehensive Environmental Assessment for the proposed quarry in Melancthon Township.”

Wilkinson, added, “Ministry of the Environment officials have thoroughly examined the technical reports which were submitted by the quarry proponents. Based on a review of those reports, and because of the unique nature of the Melancthon quarry proposal, I believe a full Environmental Assessment is necessary.”

It was the second set back for the American-based hedge fund Highland Companies, which was told only a few weeks ago the MOE did not like its plans for such things as water management.

Highland Companies has proposed a 2,400 acre mega quarry in an area of Melancthon Township that boasts soil conditions ideal for potato growing. Opponents have been fighting the plan since it was announced, claiming that digging 200 feet below the water table, as the company proposes, would entail handling billions of litres of water a day.

The original setback to the company’s plans came about because MOE staff decided the proposal:

- had numerous discrepancies between the text and the observations and data;

- the absence of a three dimensional conceptual model of the site, including the overburden stratigraphy, bedrock stratigraphy and connection of surface water features with the bedrock;

- geologic and hydrogeologic data not presented in three dimensions;

- statements and conclusions were made in the text that were not supported by either data or citations; and

- the recharge system proposal was supported neither by proof of concept data nor by comparisons with existing recharge systems at other quarries.

Opponents fear up to five major rivers, including the Grand and the Nottawasaga could be affected by such a huge site being dug below the water table.

The company had up to two years to attempt to address all of the concerns submitted to the Ministry of Natural Resources, including those raised by the Ministry of the Environment.

But MOE spokesman Kate Jordan indicated it could now take much longer than that with the environmental assessment being ordered.

She said in an interview on Sept. 2 individual Environmental Assessments are often required for projects of this size. She explained the Highlands Company will have to consider any environmental problems and how to address them.

That means consultation with government and citizens, and Highlands will have to provide a work plan and what it will do if there are problems.

She said before the ministry approves or rejects the application, the company must provide a terms of reference.

Jordan said it could take years for the company to complete all the work of the environmental assessment, and added the process will be similar to what someone looking for a new landfill would have to complete.

“When we reviewed the project, it became clear more work needed to be done,” she said, adding the impact on water was a factor in the ministry’s decision.

Estimates were that up to 600 million litres of water a day would be involved once the company dug below the water table, and opponents and agencies like the GRCA strongly questioned the company’s ability to cope with that much water.

Jordan added the pace of the work to gain approval for the quarry will now be determined by the Highlands Company, but citizens and agencies will have a chance to comment as that work proceeds. 

Wilkinson said in his statement, “Today’s decision ensures that a transparent and independent assessment of the environmental impacts of Melancthon quarry proposal will be conducted.”

The Advertiser contacted Highland Companies for a statement and received the following by email: “We were surprised at this extraordinary and targeted step taken by the government in the midst of a charged political environment, particularly given our strong view that the proven process designated by the Aggregate Resources Act and the Planning Act is robust and sufficient to consider all aspects of our project.

“We remain committed to our project, which is supported by extensive scientific and economic analysis, and we are confident it will withstand an unbiased process that is premised on facts and data.”

The company might have those hopes, but there could be another delay because Wellington-Halton Hills MP Michael Chong is also opposed to the quarry.

He has asked the federal Ministry of the Environment also demand a federal environmental assessment.

Chong said he has three reasons that fall under federal jurisdiction for the move:

- there is a federal species at risk issue within the lands (the Henslow sparrow is at risk in the habitat there);

- there is a fisheries issue, because the Pine River, which flows through the area is a cold water river and home to increasingly rare brook trout; and

- the Pine River is a navigable waterway, and thus subject to federal jurisdiction.

Chong agrees with what the province has done.

“I applaud the province for the move, but my request has been for a federal environmental assessment,” he said.

He has formally asked in parliament for that study, and said “I feel a full environmental assessment is required by law.

“I hope they’ll come to the same conclusion I have.”

 

September 9, 2011

 
 

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