Burlington, ON—Nelson Aggregate/ LaFarge has prematurely triggered a hearing in front of the Environmental Review Tribunal and the Ontario Municipal Board (called the ‘Joint Board’), forcing environmental groups, the Provincial Ministry of Natural Resources, the Niagara Escarpment Commission, Halton Region and the City of Burlington to now face a December 8, 2008 pre-hearing conference. Unless the McGuinty government stops this unnecessary process, a hearing could start as early as spring 2009.
Nelson Aggregate /LaFarge is proposing a new quarry be situated in the heart of Mount Nemo, a significant landform in North Burlington on the Niagara Escarpment and in Ontario’s Greenbelt. Mount Nemo is a unique geological feature. As a plateau, it sits above the landscape and relies solely on rainwater to supply an aquifer vital to 250 families on well water. It is a source water recharge area with over 20 tributaries originating on top of it and along its slopes. It is also habitat of Threatened and Endangered species such as the Butternut Tree and Jefferson Salamander, which Nelson/LaFarge is seeking to remove.
“We are very anxious that the protection of Mount Nemo not be shunted to a risky and grossly expensive process when the majority of the public and their democratically elected governments in the area support outright protection,” said Sarah Harmer, co-founder of Protecting Escarpment Rural Land (PERL).
Conservative estimates of the budgets required to fight the case at the Ontario Municipal Board and Environmental Review Tribunal are in the millions of dollars for what could be a six month hearing.
In May 2006 and again in April 2008, the Ministry of Natural Resources, the Niagara Escarpment Commission, Conservation Halton, the Region of Halton, and the City of Burlington all objected to Nelson Aggregate’s request for license approval under the Aggregate Resources Act, stating that such a request is premature. Chief amongst these concerns is that the Joint Agency Review Team, a government review process, has not finished its work reviewing the proposal. The hearing could proceed before this work is completed.
PERL has identified several critical matters like source water and species protection that the McGuinty government should address before the public be forced to squander precious time and resources fighting the proposed 150-acre quarry. Mount Nemo has endured over 50 years of aggregate extraction from a 640-acre Nelson Aggregate quarry that is now nearly exhausted.
PERL and Resterra Strategies recently invited Order of Canada architect Douglas Cardinal to Burlington to participate in creating a vision for a naturalized future for Mount Nemo and North Burlington as an alternative to more blasting and gravel trucks. Cardinal called for the Mount Nemo Headwaters Natural Heritage System to be completed before any new industrial activity is proposed for the area.
“Ontario residents expect that the McGuinty government will intervene and stay the Joint Board until the most sensitive features of the Niagara Escarpment have been protected,” said Dr. Rick Smith, Executive Director of Environmental Defence, a key member of the Ontario Greenbelt Alliance. “It is unconscionable that the last mapping and protection of wetlands, headwaters and threatened species on the Escarpment hasn’t occurred since Pierre Trudeau was Prime Minister. That’s embarrassing.”
PERL met last week to consider whether a boycott of the hearing is necessary in light of the recent OMB case involving a developer seeking an unprecedented $3.2 million cost award against a citizens’ group and PERL’s lawyer David Donnelly in the Big Bay Point matter.
“We know of other citizens’ groups that have abandoned their opposition to projects at the OMB because there is no SLAPP suit protection in Ontario,” Harmer said. Ontario has no anti-SLAPP (Strategic Lawsuit Against Public Participation) legislation like the recently introduced Bill 99 in Quebec.
PERL is optimistic a careful review of the facts of the sensitive Mount Nemo hydrogeology and ecology will lead to the provincial government protecting the critical headwaters area of the Grindstone and Bronte Creeks without resorting to a premature and lengthy Board hearing.
About Environmental Defence (www.environmentaldefence.ca): Environmental Defence protects the environment and human health. We research solutions. We educate. We go to court when we have to. All in order to ensure clean air, clean water and thriving ecosystems nationwide, and to bring a halt to Canada’s contribution to climate change.
For more information, or to arrange interviews, please contact:
Sarah Harmer, PERL, (416) 461-4454
Roger Goulet, PERL, (905) 335-4219
Jennifer Foulds, Environmental Defence, (416) 323-9521 ext. 232; (647) 280-9521 (cell)