If you build roads, bridges or deep foundations for buildings, chances are you are using aggregates. In Ontario, that typically means limestone gravel. Limestone is a key ingredient in cement and it’s a cheap material to use as a roadbed.
The issue with aggregates
Thousands of gravel pits dot the landscape across Ontario. Most of them are small operations that don’t go down below the water table. But when they do, they pose groundwater pollution problems.
There are other issues: aggregates are transported by truck, adding enormously heavy traffic to our roads and highways. Gravel trucks are—bar none—the heaviest trucks on the road. They cause damage to roads, burn lots of diesel, and present a hazard to drivers.
The issue with quarries in the Blue Mountain watershed
The quarries in our area that we have an issue with are located on the brow of the Niagara Escarpment. Not only is this a UNESCO World Heritage Site subject to stringent land use regulations, but it’s also a high point. It’s a karst formation thoroughly percolated with groundwater that forms area creeks, streams and rivers.
All but the smallest of quarries are going to have to manage groundwater (or ‘de-water’) as part of their operations. This typically involves the construction of a settling pond. Water from such a pond put back into watercourses raises temperature, can introduce suspended dust, rock and mud, as well as bird droppings, into otherwise pristine watercourses. It can dramatically increase alkalinity and reduce dissolved oxygen—a fundamental of aquatic life.
We are opposed to any new quarrying on the Niagara Escarpment. That includes expansions and new quarries. It is a biosphere reserve and a sensitive, ecologically significant area.
Our current focuses
Our current aggregates focuses—several of many possible—include a case that is currently before the Environment Land Tribunals of Ontario and involves a mega quarry being developed at the intersection of County Roads 91 and 31 west of Duntroon. ‘Quarry Corners’ is the location of a MAQ Aggregates quarry, two Walker quarries and likely the home of a new Osprey quarry. The Walker Quarry is at the headwaters of four watersheds. It is very deep and was recently expanded. De-watering is in effect.
Pretty River Provincial Park Gravel Pit
The owners of the Conn Gravel Pit have submitted a proposal to change the Official Plan to the Town of the Blue Mountains. The changes would allow a brand new quarry to be established bordering the Pretty River Valley Provincial Park at the intersection of the 6th Sideroad and 3rd Line. It would enable the operators to destroy the significant wildlife habitat buffering the park and increase truck traffic. We are working with Stop The Quarry – No Pretty River Quarry and the Town of Blue Mountains to prevent authorization of this quarry.
There are solutions
The Cornerstone Standards Council has a mission to “improve the conservation of the environment and community health and well-being in Canada by developing and implementing certification standards for aggregate extraction and use by the aggregate and construction industries within Canada.”
This is a fairly new entity that has come out with standards and certification that quarries can achieve if they follow certain rules. It is somewhat controversial. As far as we can tell, there is no way to prove that a quarry is actually conforming. But if the organization improves this aspect, and pits and quarries actually join, it could have a positive impact.
Another solution is legislation and economic incentives designed to promote materials recycling. A 2008 study found that while in the UK 24% of aggregate was recycled, only 7.2% was recycled in Ontario. Aggregate is Ontario is cheap, so old aggregate debris is landfilled rather than crushed and reused, while fresh gravel is trucked in from quarries like those in our area for new construction projects.
Yet another solution is to limit quarrying to non-environmentally protected lands. This may seem like common sense, but so many exceptions are granted by municipalities that sometimes the exception seems to be the rule.
How you can help
You can help the Trust in its efforts by becoming a member or by making a tax-deductible donation. One of the most important things you can do is to write and express your concerns to your local MPP and to:
Jonathan Wilkinson, Minister of the Environment and Climate Change