This is a guest blog by Claire Malcolmson, the Responsible Aggregate consultant for Environmental Defence
Imagine if your neighbor informed you that there was a plan to expand a quarry, bringing it 30 meters from your property line? Also, that the expansion will destroy the forest near your home. You would probably join an impressively organized group of citizens and fight the quarry expansion.
That’s exactly what the Tyandaga Environmental Coalition (TEC) in Burlington is doing. They took up the fight against Meridian, the site owner and they have already attracted more than 5,000 people to support their campaign. Opponents want the brick manufacturer to neither clear cut nor quarry in the site’s 35 acres east cell, home to approximately 9,000 trees.
How did it happen that an aggregate site is permitted to operate right next to a residential community? The permit was issued in 1972, 45 years ago, when the landscape looked very different around Burlington than it does today.
Burlington’s case highlights many problems with Ontario’s aggregate permitting system. Those problems include: the grandfathering of old permits when aggregate extraction is no longer an appropriate land use; the limited ability of municipalities to permit or deny aggregate operations in any context; and the difficulty in protecting endangered species or ecosystem types on private property.
According to Gord Miller, former Environmental Commissioner of Ontario, this is “a serious land use planning mistake which must be fixed.”
At a TEC rally in November to garner public support, Miller went on to outline the environmental significance of the site slated for further shale extraction:
- It is ecologically rare and significant Carolinian forest, which is found in south-western Ontario, and a bit south of Lakes Erie and Ontario. More than 400 bird species have been found in the Carolinian ecozone, representing HALF of Canada’s bird species;
- The site is in the Natural Heritage System of the Greenbelt Plan;
- The site is adjacent to Conservation Halton land;
- There are three endangered species present on the site, and maybe more. It is highly likely that the Jefferson Salamander, an endangered species, is on the site since they are known to breed less than I km from the proposed quarry expansion;
- All told, Miller says the site has a “high conservation value”.
Residents want the City of Burlington to lead a planning charrette to explore sustainable rehabilitation and development solutions across the entire quarry site. Burlington’s Council and Mayor are taking heat from residents for doing nothing to help their cause. Burlington Council says the operator has a permit, and there is nothing they can do, with the exception of Councillor Marianne Meed-Ward who vowed to help the TEC group in their efforts.
The community, with their lawyer, is fighting this operation on many fronts: They’ve submitted a request for review of the site plan under the Environmental Bill of Rights to check whether the plan endangers sensitive plants and animals and their habitat. They’ve also asked the Minister of Natural Resources to intervene in this case and prohibit future industrial land uses on the site.
The outcome of this small but significant case is important to us all. 90 per cent of Ontario’s Carolinian forest has already been lost. Are local politicians and the province really going to stand by while another 35 acres of the Carolinian is cut down for a little rock? How can the province stand by their endangered species legislation if experts are denied access to a site slated for logging to provide a second opinion about the species present on the site?
At the time of writing, Meridian had hosted a meeting at which they told residents they planned to cut the forest between January and March of 2018. Let’s hope the province’s response beats Meridian’s timeline.
Claire Malcolmson is a seasoned campaigner who cut her teeth on an Environmental Defence partnership that championed the Lake Simcoe Protection Act. Claire also led campaigns for the Great Lakes Protection Act, and for changes to campaign contribution rules for municipal election candidates under “Campaign Fairness”. She lives in Innisfil, Lake Simcoe, with her husband and wee boys.