MOE says companys plans for mega quarry fail to meet standards

A proposed mega quarry for Melancthon Township is miles away from here, but three levels of government are indicating some major concerns about the project.

Opponents of the 2,400 acre quarry received some good News on Monday when Guelph MPP Liz Sandals sent an email stating the proponent, the Highland Companies, owned by an American based-hedge fund, has failed several important tests in its application for a quarry that would be dug about 200 feet below the water table.

The formal response to the Melancthon quarry was filed by the technical staff at the Ministry of the Environment (MOE) during the original comment period. Just recently, those comments were posted publicly on the internet.

“MOE officials stated it is their position that the documents submitted by the quarry proponents failed to demonstrate a three dimensional understanding of the geology, hydrogeology and hydrology of the site,” Sandals said in her email.

Opponents have complained the company would be unable to manage the huge amounts of water involved, and that digging that much land that far below the water table could affect five major rivers, including the Grand and the Nottawasaga.

Among the reasons for the position they took, MOE staff cited:

– 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.

Sandals said the MOE response reflects similar concerns she expressed two months ago in a letter to the Minister of Natural Resources and the Minister of the Environment. She requested there be no further consideration of the proposed quarry until all the questions and concerns raised by the Grand River Conservation Authority have been addressed.

“We must protect the quality and quantity of our groundwater and surface water, now and in the future,” said Sandals.

In her letter to Minister of Natural Resources Linda Jeffries, Sandals wrote, “The GRCA raises concerns about the extraordinarily large water taking – 600,000,000 litres per day – required to de-water the quarry, the credibility of the Highland Companies’ assumption that none of this water will be consumed, and the viability of the Highland Companies’ plan to eventually rehabilitate by de-watering the proposed quarry in perpetuity.”

Sandals added, “The GRCA also raises numerous technical concerns about future impacts on both groundwater and surface water.

Minister of the Environment and Perth-Wellington MPP John Wilkinson did not respond to a request for an interview, but he did email a statement.

In it, he cited the MOE’s role in protecting human health and the environment, and said his ministry would contact the Ministry of Natural Resources about issues dealing with water if there are concerns.

“In regard to the proposed Highland quarry project in Melancthon; the Ministry of the Environment has raised serious concerns with the Ministry of Natural Resources concerning water,” Wilkinson stated in his email.

“The company has 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. Of note, this is the very beginning of the process and it would be premature to prejudge the outcome.”

But, he added, “Even if a quarry is approved by the Ministry of Natural Resources, it can not extract aggregate below the water table unless it subsequently receives a Permit to Take Water from the Ministry of the Environment. That is yet another safeguard to protect our vital ground water resources.” 

That response is likely to be more pleasing than the one that Minister of Natural Resources, Linda Jeffries gave to the mayor of Melancthon at a meeting he set up to convey municipal concerns.

She was unsympathetic to protests about the quarry. When Melancthon Township Mayor Bill Hill met with her, she indicated the decision had been made, and, “You might get a nice golf course out of it.”

Since then, though, protests have mounted and the concerns have spread. First Nations joined a number of other protesters to walk from Toronto’s Queen’s Park to the quarry site this summer to raise awareness about the issue.

Federally, MP Michael Chong recently spoke out in parliament against the mega quarry proposal, stating “This is an environmental disaster in the making.”

At the local government level, Centre Wellington Mayor Joanne Ross-Zuj brought the issue to her township’s committee of the whole on Monday. She said the township has no legal method of commenting on the process (it did during the environmental commenting period) because the township is so far away from quarry site.

But, she said, a number of county politicians are concerned and they plan to meet with provincial officials at the Association of Municipalities of Ontario conference later this month to register their concerns.

Ross-Zuj, too, noted the GRCA has some concerns about the company’s plans.