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Politicians speak out on mega quarry proposal

5,786 complaints unearthed during comment periods


Brad Pritchard, Staff Aug 10, 2011 - 2:25 PM

MELANCTHON - Much like the protest signs that have been steadily popping up on lawns across the region, concerns surrounding the mega quarry plan in Melancthon Township continue to grow, which has politicians at both the provincial and federal level keeping a watchful eye on how the proposal will unfold over the coming years. I see a lot of lawn signs around, so obviously its of great concern, said SimcoeGrey MPP Jim Wilson. My personal opinion without knowing all the science is that its too big and too deep. Youre going to see this thing from outer space. Last month, the public comment period for the 2,316-acre open-pit limestone quarry wrapped up. The proposal now moves forward for The Highland Companies, an American-owned hedge-fund company, which is now responsible for addressing each and every concern brought up by residents, government ministries, and anyone else who raised questions. Some of the major worries include how the quarry would impact the environment like water levels and air quality or traffic on area roads. Originally, there was a 45-day commenting period under the Aggregate Resources Act (ARA) that ended April 26. However, due to mounting pressure from residents and members of government at various levels, an additional commenting period was held, this time under the Environmental Bill of Rights (EBR), to ensure there was a full understanding of the 3,100-page proposal. This period closed July 11. Recently, the Ontario Ministry of Natural Resources (MNR) disclosed how many comments were received for each commenting period: 2,051 under the ARA and 3,735 for the EBR. Leading up to this in April, the MNR sent a letter to the Highland Companies, stating the company fell short in addressing various environmental challenges for the site. The MNR said these would need to be addressed in order to approve the proposal. Also in July, Melancthon council formally requested the proposal go under a full Environmental Assessment (EA), something Dufferin-Caledon MP David Tilson has also been pushing for. This would force the Highland Companies through yet another rigorous approval process. Under existing law, quarry proposals are only subject to the ARA and the Planning Act.

Given the scope of the proposal, Wilson said he welcomes more examination. We should have a full Environmental Assessment, fully respect the process and believe in the process, he said. Im happy to see the MNR has the same concerns as the citizens in terms of the groundwater. With all the concerns that have been raised this year, Highland Companies spokesperson Lindsay Broadhead said it makes sense why support is growing for an EA. However, she said the current studies underway provide sufficient environmental review since they include the ARA, the Planning Act, the Environmental Protection Act and the Ontario Water Resources Act. In all cases, the Melancthon Quarry will meet and in many cases will exceed regulatory requirements, Broadhead said. Highland believes these standards are equal to, and in some cases, more stringent than, the EA. The Highland Companies has until March 2013 to address all of these concerns. By then, the MNR will decide the fate of the quarry, but that decision could be delayed if the application gets deferred to the Ontario Municipal Board. Highland is committed to meeting or exceeding all environmental and other regulatory requirements, said Broadhead. This is why Highland can say with certainty that there will be no adverse impacts on the environment because it is not legally allowed to do so. Wilson remains unconvinced and said its in everyones interest to take extra precaution, even if it means going through the EA. Id support any process that scrutinizes the heck out of this thing and addresses all of our residents concerns, Wilson said. And at the end of the day, I cant see the province approving this whole application. It will probably go in stages, its just too big. According to Highland Companies, the quarry would unfold in stages to minimize open extraction areas. A fully-detailed project proposal is available at www.highlandcompanies.ca. Simcoe-Grey MP Kellie Leitch told The Herald she is working with neighbouring MPs Tilson and Michael Chong (Wellington-Halton Hills) to speak out with concerns about the mega quarry. According to Leitch, some of their worries are the impact on the watershed,fish, birds and other wildlife. She said they are all trying to work withthe municipalities and provincial members of parliament to have a strongvoice.Our focus is on fighting for our constituents here, Leitch said.

- with files from Maija Hoggett