Two years ago, during the last provincial election and as the Mega Quarry fight heated up, the Ontario government ordered a review of the Aggregate Resources Act. Highland’s application for the largest quarry in Canadian history had raised many concerns about the ARA, specifically the lack of protection for prime farmland and source water regions.
Public hearings were held by the Standing Committee on General Government in the spring of 2012. Agricultural stakeholders, including NDACT, the Ontario Federation of Agriculture, Ontario Farmland Trust and individual farmers, testified before the all-party Committee. Representatives from the aggregate industry also made presentations. But judging by the Committee’s report on the ARA review, it’s as if the agricultural voices were never heard.
The Committee released its report this week and Food & Water First is extremely disappointed. There are no recommendations to protect prime farmland and source water regions. As it stands now, another Highland Mega Quarry application could be approved.
1) That the ARA, regulations and operating standards be amended to acknowledge and protect the vital role of our agricultural lands.
2) That aggregate extraction be prohibited on prime agricultural land (Classes 1-4), including Specialty Crop Lands.
The ARA report contains just four recommendations about agricultural land and they focus on rehabilitating pits and quarries once excavation is over. The report doesn’t include testimony about what happens when prime agricultural soil is stripped and fields are quarried: the farmland that could produce food forever is lost forever.
As well, testimony from the Canadian Environmental Law Association revealed there are nearly 7,000 abandoned pits and quarries in Ontario and, at the current rate of rehabilitation, it would take between 90 and 335 years to rehabilitate all of them.
The ARA review report makes a single recommendation about water: that the Ministry of Natural Resources along with the Ministry of the Environment, conservation authorities and aggregate companies ensure any potential impacts on water resources be appropriately assessed and mitigated where warranted.
The recommendations for protection for source water regions and an automatic Environmental Assessment under the Environmental Assessment Act for significantly below-the-water-table aggregate applications were not included.