On June 30, 2006 Lake Ontario Waterkeeper filed our official objection to Nelson Aggregate's proposal to turn precious rural land on the Niagara Escarpment into a quarry.
Nelson â€“ a partnership between Lafarge and Steed and Evans Holdings â€“ has been operating a quarry near Burlington for close to 60 years, producing 2-million tonnes of aggregate annually. Today's quarry is nearly exhausted, and it is slated to be converted to greenspace. Now that Nelson has asked the province to licence a new quarry right next door, restoration is on hold and we could see yet another hole gouged into the Escarpment.
Waterkeeper's formal objection is based on four fundamental problems with Nelson's application:
First, Nelson is asking to open a quarry in an environmentally sensitive area without enough study or scrutiny. In 1990, UNESCO designated the Escarpment as World Biosphere Reserve. The site is home to many valuable natural features, including woodlands and wetlands that are home to at least two threatened species (Jefferson Salamander, Butternut tree), 60,000 trees planted to purify the region's air, and tributaries of six different watersheds. Ongoing studies by various government officials and Nelson are not yet complete, so the impact of quarrying on the natural environment remains a mystery.
Second, the quarry design doesn't reflect modern science or engineering practices. The flaws in Nelson's proposal have been documented in great detail by Protecting Escarpment Rural Land (see below).
Third, the key documents that prove Nelson's proposal will not harm the environment are missing. To date, Nelson has submitted only â€œdraftsâ€? or â€œoutlinesâ€? of important documents requested by the City of Burlington and other government officials. These reports are required under provincial policy before real public consultations can even begin.
Fourth, Conservation Halton is currently investigating Nelson for dredging and filling without permits, a possible violation of the Conservation Authorities Act. There is serious concern that Nelson may have been trying to eliminate some ecologically valuable sections of its land in order to help the company through this quarry application process. Waterkeeper argues that this activity increases the importance of public consultation and mandates extra vigilance on the part of the province.
Our concerns are shared by local groups like Protecting Escarpment Rural Land. PERL, as the group is known, is led by environmental advocate and musician Sarah Harmer and has emerged as fierce defender of the Niagara Escarpment. PERL also filed an objection to Nelson's proposal, citing fifteen separate issues of concern. The City of Burlington, Halton Region, and the Niagara Escarpment Commission have expressed similar worries about Nelson's push for more quarry land.
Nelson has up to two years to respond to our objections. The Province of Ontario then has a decision to make: With the Escarpment's wealth of natural features and a slew of laws and policies intended to preserve it, protecting the little we have left seems like the most natural choice to make.