Monday, October 17, 2011

Canadian Chefs Rally Opposition to Proposed Quarry

What's a successful protest festival without a little rain, wind and mud? Foodstock served up ample portions of all three but managed to keep thousands of attendees warm with hot apple cider, samplings of local fare and a line-up of sizzling live performances. The event was a rally of opposition to the proposed construction of a mega-quarry in this picturesque nook of southern Ontario.

On October 16th, 2011 I joined thousands of other concerned Ontarians on a wooded lot 120 kilometers north of Toronto in Melancthon Township where over 70 members of the Canadian Chefs' Congress had gathered to inspire us with scrumptious recipes designed to celebrate the use of local ingredients. My sampling menu included perch, pulled pork, wild turkey, plenty of beets, crispy apples and parts of the cow that had never touched my lips before. It would be virtually impossible to choose a favourite as all of these offerings were worth waiting for in the lines snaking throughout the woods.

The pay-what-you-can event was in response to a proposal by The Highland Companies, an American-backed entity intent on transforming up to 2,300 acres of prime farmland into one of the largest limestone quarries on the continent. The developer submitted its excavation application to the Government of Ontario in March of this year and has posted this statement on its website.

The limestone is called Amabel dolostone and is particularly valuable as high-quality aggregate, which is used to build highways and other infrastructure. The Ontario Ministry of Natural Resources published a report last year that stated the province consumes 164 million tonnes of aggregate per year. It is a number that could climb to 186 million tonnes over the next twenty years.

The proposed limestone quarry sits at the headwaters of five rivers. It has been estimated that once active it would require up to 600 million litres of water to be pumped out each day because of the high water table. Moreover, the current remediation proposal calls for the recovered land to be restored to potato farming subject to effective pumping operations lasting in perpetuity. These elements of the proposal have raised serious concerns about the impact of the quarry on Ontario's watershed and nearby farmland. Any negative impact could imperil this land from continuing to grow half of all the potatoes used in the GTA.

In response to the concerns being raised, the Ministry of Natural Resources has taken the unusual step of ordering a full environmental assessment of the project before construction can begin. It is apparently the first of its kind in the history of the Ontario Aggregate Resources Act and could take years to complete. A local MPP has also started questioning the project. In an interview with the Guelph Mercury, Guelph MPP Liz Sandals stated, "I think it’s the most bizarre thing I’ve ever seen."

Unfortunately, for the quarry opposition, the Ministry's report has called on industry to seek new sources within 75 km of the GTA. The challenge is that much of the land ringing the city is protected by the Greenbelt Act, 2005 or the Niagara Escarpment Planning and Development Act, 1973. In Melancthon, the land may be valuable from an agricultural perspective but is unprotected by statutes.

Perhaps seeing thousands of people driving hundreds of kilometres for the privilege of stomping through ankle-deep mud will give the developer food for thought. Or perhaps Foodstock will become a recurring celebration of local fare that will allow for urban dwellers to better understand the value this land holds for our nutrition.

Some live video action courtesy of the Toronto Star: