Day of Reckoning: Caledon’s Rockfort Quarry

Like oil, aggregate has become essential to modern life. But how much are we willing to sacrifice to get it? As the decade-long dispute over Caledon’s Rockfort quarry finally heads to the OMB, we’re about to find out.

March 21, 2009 | | Back Issues

As I approached the Tony Rose Sports Complex that evening in 2005, a bitter wind whipped the parking lot’s grit and grime into swirling dust devils. It was the kind of March night best spent curled up on the couch with a cup of hot tea and a good book. But along with hundreds of others folks, I was attending an all-candidates debate. Waving homemade placards and bundled up in warm coats, members of the Coalition of Concerned Citizens were there too. They wanted to make everyone attending the event, politicians included, aware of their battle against the quarry proposed for Rockfort Farm.

Lorraine Symmes explains the topographical profi le of the proposed pit during one of the coalition’s educational open houses.

Lorraine Symmes explains the topographical profi le of the proposed pit during one of the coalition’s educational open houses.

I’d always been impressed at how this collection of well-heeled, front-end baby boomers had coalesced into an effective protest group, so I didn’t find their tactics out of the ordinary on this particular night. Not, that is, until I saw Ward Pitfield.

I don’t recall what his homemade sign said; I just remember being dumbfounded that this former chairman of Dominion Securities, brother of Pierre Trudeau’s advisor, Michael Pitfield, and contemporary of my parents had hit the pavement. Tall enough to impress, Pitfield, his characteristic bow tie peeking out from beneath his overcoat, was 80 years old at the time.

In that moment, I realized that the coalition’s battle against the quarry had clearly transformed these people. Maybe they knew something that I had missed.

To finance its effort to stop Bolton-based James Dick Construction Ltd. from blasting the bedrock from beneath Caledon’s historic Rockfort Farm, and turning this largely pastoral countryside into an industrial area, the coalition has raised about $800,000. Its members, who claim to have terrier-infused DNA, have met virtually every Sunday morning in the “war room” at Eddie Long’s home for more than ten years.

Eager bargain hunters line up early for the annual Great Big Garage Sale. It puts about $6o,ooo annually into the “war chest” of the Coalition of Concerned Citizens. Photo Courtesy Coalition Of Concerned Citizens.

Eager bargain hunters line up early for the annual Great Big Garage Sale. It puts about $6o,ooo annually into the “war chest” of the Coalition of Concerned Citizens. Photo Courtesy Coalition Of Concerned Citizens.

They’ve become best friends, deeply bonded by their anti-quarry effort, which, in addition to the Sunday meetings, revolves around the aptly named Great Big Garage Sale that annually tops up the coalition’s “war chest” by almost $60,000. Pitfield admits, “I didn’t know the guy who lived four doors down from me until the garage sales.” Lorraine Symmes, one of the original coalition members, says, “I’ve lived here since 1951 and I’ve never known so many people in my neighbourhood.”

After the decade-long battle, coalition members and James Dick are poised for their day of reckoning. Barring further delays, the Ontario Municipal Board hearing into the Rockfort quarry application is set to begin on May 25. With peer reviews of the company’s proposal mostly critical, and the Town of Caledon, Credit Valley Conservation and neighbouring Erin unanimous in their opposition to the Rockfort application, it seems things are stacked against James Dick.

Moreover, last November, the Supreme Court of Canada ruled unanimously that Canadians have the right to launch class-action lawsuits against polluters, and that nuisance claims require proof only of “abnormal inconvenience,” not of wrongdoing or “fault.” Although there is no lawsuit associated with James Dick’s plans for Rockfort, the decision sets a tone that is not friendly to the aggregate industry.

Based on its history, however, the OMB’s decision is far from certain. Ward Pitfield says, “The OMB gives me the shivers.” And plenty is at stake. Caledon’s home-grown aggregate policy, OPA 161, includes provisions that are more restrictive than what the province asks for. If the OMB turns down James Dick, other communities that are opposing aggregate applications are likely to want their own OPA 161s.

The hearing, which is scheduled to break over the summer and reconvene in September, will cost the coalition another quarter- to half-a-million dollars. Raising this amount of cash in a bearish economy is a daunting task, but Jennifer Rogers and Willa Gauthier, the energetic pair who are primarily responsible for fundraising, seem motivated by the challenge. They were encouraged that a request for support they made at a public meeting this past November attracted $50,000.

They also have high hopes for the twelfth annual garage sale. “They’re fun,” admits the petite Rogers as the three of us sit sipping café lattes beneath the soaring cathedral ceiling in her breathtakingly beautiful new post-and-beam home. Gauthier, who commutes back and forth between her city residence and her farm on Winston Churchill Boulevard, is an accomplished equestrian. Her enthusiasm for fundraising overflowing, Gauthier explains, “It takes a tremendous amount of time, expertise and money.” In fact, the coalition estimates that it has expended some 350,000 volunteer hours so far opposing the quarry.

The Rockfort battle is no David and Goliath story. There isn’t an Erin-Brockovich underdog fighting a big multinational. Instead, a group of affluent, influential and motivated folk are pitted against a local company whose owner lives next door. The coalition’s longevity and success are very much because its members are WOOFs – Well Off Old Folks – most of whom have time on their hands, know who to call for a favour and are used to having their way. It’s a situation not lost on a relative newcomer to the coalition. With calm insight, the result of a lifetime spent farming in Huron County, Don Lobb observes, “They have great human resources to draw on in this community.”

The coalition has held a heck of a lot of garage sales, golf tournaments, hoedowns and theatre performances. They’ve stood at the corner of Mississauga and King roads on many a cold morning handing out flyers to commuters. They’ve jam-packed school gymnasiums with concerned citizens, hosted a water and wetland bus tour for politicians and policymakers, and petitioned governments. They’ve hired lawyers and consultants, cajoled volunteers and basically never taken no for an answer. Along the way, they’ve also realized that more often than not, it’s the provincial government, not James Dick, that they are fighting.

Pitfield, who has seen the inside of Queen’s Park as a result of his years on Bay Street, says, “There always seems to be a [government] deal somewhere. The whole thing stinks.” Long adds, “The environmental protection act is a joke. The government allows a big development, but a guy can’t nail two boards on his deck.”

Their perseverance has paid off. In a surprising decision in 2003, the OMB not only approved the Town of Caledon’s precedent-setting new aggregate policy (OPA 161), it ruled that the Rockfort application was subject to it. As a result, the property was designated “aggregate reserve land.” In essence, the town said that Rockfort was a lower priority aggregate project because of its distance from existing haul routes, and other environmental and social concerns. The only way James Dick could begin blasting the dolostone beneath Rockfort anytime soon was if it could have the property moved out of reserve. Under OPA 161, this required James Dick to undertake a more detailed evaluation called a Broader Comprehensive Scale Environmental Study.

As impressed as I was by the coalition’s tenacity, however, I remained sceptical of its motives. In the early days, the depressing effect the quarry would have on its members’ property values seemed to out-rank any environmental concerns. The coalition’s tenacious leader, Penny Richardson, recalls, “Initially, all I knew was that there were going to be a ton of trucks out there and that property values would go down.”

Moreover, the coalition’s insistence that the aggregate should come from somewhere – anywhere – else didn’t sit well with me. After all, we all use gravel. Although I wasn’t impressed by how James Dick has handled itself over the years, I was not unsympathetic with the message on its website either: “With our wits and with hard work we process what we dig from the ground and we change it into the house that you live in, the street that you drive on, the hospital that your children were born in … Everything built by modern man depends on aggregates to lay a solid foundation, to provide structure, create shelter and provide security.”

So, I was finding it difficult to rationalize some members’ palatial houses, immense horse stables and winter-escapes to second homes in Florida with their call for restraint in mining the resources for the roads and building materials essential to the humbler among us. While I hated to see the gloriously beautiful farm, home for decades to Major Charles Kindersley and his regal wife Chris, blasted away, I couldn’t help but feel that these WOOFs had a bad case of NIMBYism (Not In My Back Yard).

But like the groundwater that slivers ever so slowly through the tiny cracks and crevices in the fractured bedrock so prized by James Dick at Rockfort Farm, my opinion moved too. Richardson points to the three pillars of their opposition. They include water, environmental risk and inappropriate planning, by which she means the “foolhardy” idea of putting an industrial facility in the midst of a relatively “pristine” landscape.

James Dick proposes a controversial “grout curtain” to stop the quarry from draining wetlands like these that abut the quarry site across the road on Winston Churchill Boulevard. Photo Courtesy Coalition Of Concerned Citizens.

James Dick proposes a controversial “grout curtain” to stop the quarry from draining wetlands like these that abut the quarry site across the road on Winston Churchill Boulevard. Photo Courtesy Coalition Of Concerned Citizens.

Rockfort Farm abuts the Niagara Escarpment Planning Area and is in Southern Ontario’s greenbelt, although it has an exemption from greenbelt rules because of the pending application. It is in an area that Caledon Ward One councillor Richard Paterak believes is closer to its natural state now than it was 90 years ago when “foolhardy” settlers attempted to coax crops from every square inch of the rocky land. There are no industrial facilities or villages in the vicinity, and situated as it is at the corner of two rural roads – Winston Churchill Boulevard and Olde Base Line Road – the 89-hectare (220-acre) farm is some distance from major roads (aka major haul routes). One look at the aerial photograph on the coalition’s website illustrates how untouched the area is.

Many may be surprised to learn that the company’s owner, James Dick, and his wife Anne, live full-time at the quarry site. From Rockfort Farm’s exquisite heritage stone house, they look out over glorious gardens and a century-old stone barn and outbuildings. One of their daughters, her husband and children have a place a couple of lines over. In fact, the Dicks are proud to have been Caledon residents for seven generations.

However, despite its peaceful setting in an area known as Rockside since it was first settled in the mid-1800s, Rockfort Farm’s big attraction is its 39 million tonnes of premier-quality dolostone. Pointing out that the Region of Peel has zoned the area for potential extraction, Dick assured me during a telephone interview, “That area will be industrialized.” If it is, the sound and vibrations from blasting rock will interrupt the tranquility for the next 30 years as the Dick’s backyard is transformed into a pair of gaping holes that cover 60 hectares and are up to 40 metres deep (a depth that is equivalent to a 13-story high building).

Dick’s neighbours aren’t keen about the prospect of the blasting, crushing and scraping that will take place from 7 a.m. to 7 p.m. from Monday to Friday and “occasional Saturdays.” Who would be? Nor do they like the idea of the gravel trucks that will grind their way all day along local roads that will have to be widened, flattened and paved until there is little left of their rural character. Estimates vary, but at times, hundreds of 20-tonne behemoth tractor-trailers per day could rumble past equestrians, cyclists and school buses. The coalition claims the number could be as high as 1,000 on some days. And if the noise and grit weren’t enough, there’s the water.

The application involves quarrying to a depth that is below the water table. As a result, 10,000-year-old groundwater that percolates through the small crooks and crannies that characterize the dolostone or fractured bedrock that makes Rockfort so precious, will empty into the pits.

Water that currently fills neighbourhood water wells and flows into ponds and wetlands is expected to be drawn to Rockfort’s yawning quarry. Less of the rain that lands on the Paris Moraine that underlies Rockfort will percolate down the slope into the Credit River as it meanders through Belfountain, Cheltenham and Terra Cotta. Just as the Atlantic salmon restocking programs are catching hold in the Credit, base flows could drop, thereby impairing fish habitat. Creeks could cease to flow in summer months. Vernal ponds, home to the endangered blue-spotted and Jefferson salamanders, may no longer rise up during spring flooding when these amphibious “canaries in a coal mine” venture out to breed.

To avoid this catastrophe, James Dick’s engineers have devised a “solution.” They plan to stop the flow of groundwater into the pits at Rockfort Farm by injecting grout into the tiny cracks and crevices in the fractured stone all around the quarry. In this way, James Dick says it can manage the flow of interstitial water. Called a grout curtain, it’s a solution that Alex Naudts, an expert who works for ECO Grouting Specialists Ltd., believes is technically possible, but not economically feasible.

After evaluating Dick’s grout curtain scheme, Naudts wrote, “In order for a technically viable mitigation measure to be considered a credible solution, it has to be also economically feasible. I have come to the conclusion that no economically viable barrier technologies exist to protect the water resources in the area adjacent to the proposed quarry.”

Naudts is one of a number of experts hired by the Town of Caledon to assess the consultants’ reports prepared for James Dick as part of the company’s Broader Comprehensive Scale Environmental Study. The town has posted these peer reviews on its website. They examine James Dick’s analyses of noise, air quality, traffic and other expected impacts.

As a group, the reports generally find that James Dick has not done much to update the original studies submitted in 2000, before the OMB ruled that the company had to comply with the town’s new aggregate policy. “It’s almost as if he [Dick] wasn’t serious about it,” says coalition member Lillie Ann Morris.

James Dick’s comprehensive adaptive management plan – “a flexible mitigation system that can be adjusted in response to monitoring results” and is also a town requirement – hasn’t gone over well either. As proposed, James Dick will adapt its management efforts if, for example, the grout curtain fails.

Jagger Hims Limited, the environmental engineering firm hired by the town to review plans to manage water resources back in 2000 and again in 2008, writes, “When implemented correctly, this type of approach is reasonable and supportable. If, however, this approach is done incorrectly, then unacceptable change can occur and remain unnoticed to the point where permanent and significant (unacceptable) impact may occur.”

Councillor Paterak is suspicious too: “It reminds me of the many sand castles I built as a youth. As the tide comes in, strategies are employed to protect the sand castle. But with the rising tide each strategy fails and leads to another more desperate attempt. In the end, the tide wins and the sand castle is washed away.

“With the adaptive management plan, every problem is met with an engineering solution, but if problems keep arising and the solutions fail, the fear is that hands will be thrown up in frustration and the provincial government will allow continued mining, environmental destruction be damned, too much money is at stake and James Dick did have approval to quarry stone.”

It’s a fear that grips the coalition too. Eddie Long, the group’s self-professed rainmaker (for his skill at drawing in new talent), says he has warned “Jimmy” Dick that the grout curtain will bankrupt the company.

Dick, whose private company operates 13 pits and quarries and eight concrete plants and which has reportedly spent “tens of millions of dollars” in studies and legal costs to pursue the Rockfort application, may beg to differ. But, notes Jennifer Rogers, “If it isn’t viable and Dick goes away, it becomes a problem for us and for generations to come.”

Lorraine Symmes, who lives across the road from Rockfort Farm, points to a peer review by Golder Associates which warns that “the principal elements of the groundwater impact mitigation strategy are a major departure in terms of capital expenditure, operating costs and engineering sophistication, from normal quarrying practice. Combined with the length of post-operating management required (up to 50 years), this must raise uncertainty over whether the proposed measures will be implemented, given the competitive nature of the aggregate industry.”

Given the acrimonious nature of the battle between the coalition, government and James Dick, it’s hard to believe that some aggregate applications are approved with the blessing of the local community, according to Moreen Miller, the new president of the Ontario Stone, Sand and Gravel Association (OSSGA). An Alton resident and long-time environmental manager with Lafarge Canada Inc., Miller says, “The aggregate industry has to work more effectively to understand community issues.” But, she points out, “If the [Rockfort] application is denied then the material will have to come from somewhere else in the province.”

And that, of course, is the nub of the issue. We need aggregate for the roads that we all drive along. The OSSGA, for example, reports that a one-kilometre stretch of a six-lane highway requires 51,800 tonnes or 2,590 truckloads of aggregate. For obvious reasons, we all benefit from the high-strength concrete used in tall buildings. It’s to the latter that the crushed stone from Rockfort will be headed if the application passes muster with the OMB.

Pointing out that the Greater Toronto Area is slated to absorb millions more people over the next 25 years, and referring to a provision in Ontario’s Provincial Policy Statement which states that aggregate will be “made available as close to market as possible,” Miller says, “The issue is far broader than which communities have aggregate and which ones don’t.”

What Miller means is that if the province is determined to pursue this growth in the GTA then some communities are simply going to have to accommodate a “Rockfort” in their backyard. It’s a situation made worse by the fact that the GTA’s supply of high-quality aggregate is “dwindling.”

It doesn’t take a PhD to recognize that as long as the province continues to push for local supply while encouraging population growth, pressure to approve applications such as Rockfort, despite its environmental and social impacts, will continue to mount. It also becomes clear that given this situation, the OMB might just give James Dick the nod in spite of the environmental evidence against the application.

Back in 2001, when I last wrote for this magazine about the Rockfort battle, Richardson told me that it’s the failure of government to protect the environment that makes her the most angry. Finally, I get it.

Aggregate Aggravations Abound

The Rockfort quarry application may be the longest running, but it isn’t the only one in the Headwaters region. Both the Town of Erin and the Town of Mulmur have battles of their own, and a new one is brewing in Melancthon. None of those communities, however, has Caledon’s aggregate policy OPA 161 to work with. Should the Ontario Municipal Board turn down Rockfort, you can be sure that the groups fighting aggregate applications in these municipalities will be petitioning their local governments for the protection afforded their neighbours through OPA 161.

Town of Erin

Strada Aggregates is proposing to expand its existing 114-hectare gravel pit on the 8th Line of Erin. The expansion would open up an additional 12 hectares and result in the removal of 2.2 million tonnes of aggregate over four years. The pit has been in operation since 1940 and is already zoned for aggregate. The company only needs approval from the Ontario Ministry of Natural Resources. There is concern about dust, noise, a stand of butternut trees and the impact on the water table. The company had previously told local residents that it did not intend to expand into the area, but changed its mind after finding a good deposit.

At a meeting held at the Hillsburgh Community Centre in January, tempers rose and insults flew as members of the Concerned Citizens of Erin felt their concerns and questions were not being addressed by Strada representatives Bob Long and Tom Newson.

The decision about the expansion rests with MNR, but an appeal would mean the Ontario Municipal Board would hear the case.

The Concerned Citizens of Erin website is www.concernedcitizensoferin.com.

Mulmur Township

Bob Duncanson from CORE (Conserve Our Rural Environment) reports that his group is on standby with regard to Arbour Farms’ plans for an aggregate operation. Local resident Adam Krehm, who owns Arbour Farms, has made it known that he intends to apply to the Town of Mulmur for rezoning to “extractive industry” and to the Ontario Ministry of Natural Resources for an aggregate licence. If approved, the operation would remove a maximum of 500,000 tonnes annually from its property located seven kilometres north of Mansfield on Airport Road.

CORE indicates that some 300 truckloads per day could be taken from the pit. The steep hills and valleys of the haul route along Airport Road are a major concern. A video prepared by CORE illustrates that loaded gravel trucks are unable to maintain speeds of 80 kilometres per hour on ascents, with the likely result that frustrated commuters will attempt to pass, and that the trucks have difficulty slowing down on descents, causing a hazard for cars that may be stopped for a left turn. CORE is also concerned about the implications for water supplies for local residents, since Krehm plans to mine aggregate from below the water table.

Melancthon Township

For the last two years, an investment syndicate called The Highland Companies, represented by John Lowndes, has quietly bought up about 6,ooo acres of land in Melancthon and Mulmur townships in north Dufferin. The region’s highly fertile silt loam soil makes it prime potato-growing land, and the company is continuing to operate Downey Potato Farms on the original Downey farm and other potato farms it has purchased in the area – making it the province’s largest potato producer.

However, residents are concerned that potatoes are not the only thing the company has cooking. The company has also declared its interest in developing the township’s aggregate and wind resources (Melancthon is already home to one of the province’s largest wind farms). And last year, it also reached an agreement to purchase the Orangeville-Brampton Railway with the professed long-term goal of restoring rail transportation from Georgian Bay to Lake Ontario.

Although many residents initially embraced the company and willingly sold their properties, other citizens are increasingly concerned and have recently established a watchdog group called the North Dufferin Agricultural and Community Taskforce. For information, see www.NDACT.com.

Can gravel be green?

The Ontario Greenbelt Alliance is a watchdog organization that looks out for the environmental and social aspects of Ontario’s 1.8 million-acre greenbelt in the Greater Golden Horseshoe. In 2oo7, it launched its Green Gravel Campaign with backing from some high-profile members, including singer/songwriter Sarah Harmer who is also the co-chair of Protecting Escarpment Rural Land.

The alliance notes that, “Aggregate extraction, particularly as a non-renewable resource, has not been subject to 3Rs principles (reduce, reuse, recycle) as has begun with our forests, energy, and other consumptive products/wastes.” As a result, some 81 organizations, including, for example, the Coalition of Concerned Citizens, the Coalition on the Niagara Escarpment and Save the Oak Ridges Moraine Coalition, released a report entitled, “Green Gravel: Priorities for Aggregate Reform in Ontario.” It includes five priorities for the aggregate sector including:

  • Develop and implement a long-term conservation strategy for aggregates.
  • Ban new aggregate extraction in the Greenbelt, the Niagara Escarpment, the Oak Ridges Moraine, and Class I, II and III agricultural lands adjacent or contiguous to these designated areas.
  • Redesign the licensing and permit approvals process to make it more fair and balanced for the public interest and the environment.
  • Develop and implement more effective and credible mechanisms for compliance, inspection and enforcement of aggregate operations and rehabilitation. Enforce provincial laws and site plans.
  • Address personal and environmental health concerns by implementing mandatory standards and monitoring of dust or airborne particulate matter and carbon dioxide (CO2) from extraction and production activities associated with extraction. This includes detailed analysis for specific mineral content and CO2 emissions.

The full report can be downloaded from www.greenbeltalliance.ca/reports/

Also associated with the alliance’s campaign is the Green Gravel Coalition’s effort to introduce a green gravel certification program. Taking his lead from the successful Forest Stewardship Council program that certifies paper products, the coalition’s leader, lawyer David Donnelly, is working on a program that would result in gravel being certified only if it is mined in a sustainable manner.

 

About the Author More by Nicola Ross

Freelance writer Nicola Ross lives in Belfountain.

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