Hidden Behind Berms.... No End In Sight

In September 1990, Caledon Councillor John Alexander, speaking with Toronto Star columnist Michele Landsburg,  pointed to 400 acres of aggregate development in the Town of Caledon, and described it as "The road to oblivion!"  (Caledon like a body riddled with cancer, Toronto Star, Sept 1, 1990).

In the past 25 years the operations that John Alexander indicated have steadily been added to. Today they are part of a 3830 acre corridor of active pits. This industrial land mass extends eastward from the Caledon-Erin border at Winston Churchill Blvd. to Kennedy Road in Caledon Village with Hwys #124 #10 as the major conveyor routes.  In Caledon Village the aggregate corridor turns northward onto Willoughby Road. Here it begins a secondary trajectory towards Caledon's border with Orangeville where the proposed Melville Pit is at the final stage in its licence application.

As the map below shows, in addition to the current operations, aggregate companies own another 800 acres of proposed mines as well as properties for which licences have not yet been applied. The aggregate corridor is poised to hold a 4600 acre swath of operating mines in the near future.

 | click here to open the read-only pdf map below |Click to download pdf map

The Tipping Point

In 2011-12 the Highland Farms' plan to develop the 2400 acre Melancthon Mega Quarry in a community north of Orangeville Ontario received a lot of attention from the media because of its huge acreage, its effect on water resources and surrounding environment, its encroachment on prime agricultural land. After a robust and persistent campaign against the proposal by environmental activists as well as an unusual decision by the Ontario government to put the proposal to an Environmental Review, the company withdrew its licence application.

In Caledon we've achieved mega-proportions incrementally over time. The Melancthon Quarry on the other hand had only one developer, but it was the size of the development that first raised concerns. Whether it's one proponent or many as in Caledon, we can't escape profound social and environmental effects on surrounding communities if we accept super-sized complexes as the norm and keep adding to them. [Click here to review licences distribution]

Quarry Gravel Pits Aggregate Mining Caledon

When is the cumulative impact of progressively larger industrial developments too much? Before we continue adding acreage, let's look at the net effects of size. We need answers before we create further threats to the environment that we live in. If an environmental review was called for in Melancthon at 2400 acres, why not in Caledon which currently faces at least double the acreage in one land mass which is also far more diverse?

The McCormick Farm on Heart Lake Road in Caledon is the latest property being proposed for aggregate extraction. Blueland Farms has sent its proposal for a licence application from the Ministry of Natural Resources to the Town of Caledon, as supporting documentation for an amendment to the Town's Official Plan. It asks that the Town redesignate the farm from Rural Area to Extractive Industrial in order to permit a mineral aggregate resource extraction use (gravel pit) below the water table as well as accessory uses - crushing, screening, washing, stockpiling and recycling of asphalt and concrete material

The back of the McCormick farm runs along the edge of Caledon's Mega-Pits development. The property contains Provincially Significant wetland that is part of a wetland complex and is an integral part of an area of rich environmental biodiversity as well as being within an active social community.

REDC [People for Responsible Escarpment Development Caledon Inc.] a community based organization is challenging the Blueland Farms application.

How to grow a Mega Aggregate Development

Caledon has a well deserved reputation for green initiatives and in 2003 Caledon received TVO’s Greenest Town in Ontario Award which official greeters and local politicians make much of.

Signs proudly announce that travelers are entering a UNESCO World Biosphere Reserve. But behind the berms that line many country roads lies a side of Caledon that most eco tourists would find hard to celebrate. [Berm: earthen embankment or wall, erected to act as a landscaping screen]

Welcome to the Niagara EscarpmentToday Caledon contains the “largest series of gravel pits in North America” according to a 2007 study funded by the Social Sciences and Humanities Research Council. Living here, it isn't difficult to understand why there's a strongly held belief that gravel ‘trumps all’. Although this is a defeatist outlook the truth is that even communities with strong evidence based cases come up against an aggregate supporting establishment with massive funds and government lobbies which can access the best expert help that money can buy.

Once the ball gets rolling farmland is destroyed, waterways are diverted and compromised in the relentless search for gravel.  Because regulations contain fewer barriers to reclassifying farmland as industrial land, farmland is vulnerable to conversion.  Natural habitat on the other hand typically follows another path: first it is reclassified as farmland. Then standing forests are razed and uprooted and a holding pattern of short term tenant farms is established until the properties are sufficiently conditioned and ready for extraction. Then the licence application process begins.

Areas of enormous biodiversity are leveled. Gone forever. There are so many pit ponds created by the demand for aggregate that local maps no longer bother to distinguish between the few modest natural lakes or kettle lakes and the acres of exposed water that result when an aquifer is permanently breached during mining operations. Nowadays all are ‘lakes’. The irony of the Forks of the Credit Provincial Park dividing a wasteland of mines stripped of biodiversity is not lost on those of us who live here.

Effects on Water Resources

Each new pit and quarry adds to the draw on our water resources. This was one of the linchpins in the Melancthon MegaQuarry campaign. When the operation is a below-the-watertable aggregate extraction, massive aquifer intrusion occurs and large amounts of water are withdrawn from general circulation. Huge amounts of water are needed to process gravel and also to keep down dust that is generated by its production.  

 Stripping the Aquifer

The weekly water requirement alone for on site dust control at the McCormick Pit is estimated to be 468,000 litres of water. Per week that's the same amount  that meets the needs of 274 Caledon households.

There is also evidence that aggregate extraction can have damaging effects on the physical integrity of aquifers under certain circumstances.

According to a report prepared for the CTC  Source Protection Committee (Credit Valley/Greater Toronto Area/ Central Lake Ontario), mining activities have led to the total removal of the soil layer that protects the unconfined sand and gravel aquifer lying below the gravel mass being mined around Caledon Village.  This has led to an increased threat to drinking water in a key municipal well which has been under review. The aquifer from which Alton and Caledon Village draw a portion of their water supply is exposed. 
"...the vulnerability rating within the area of the gravel pits was increased from medium to high."
(Assessment Report, Credit Valley Source Protection Area. June 2011)

Moreover the nature of all municipal wells in and around Caledon Village makes them susceptible to contamination.

There appear to be no plans at the moment to protect the aquifer. And an extensive search for new reliable, suitable sources of water for municipal wells in the Alton/Caledon Village area has been discouraging, inhibiting plans for long term expansion of these communities.

The Source Protection Committee which sets policy for the quality and quantity of municipal water supply does not concern itself with private wells and so rural Ontarians are on their own. Short of trucking water onto their properties when their wells go dry, they're out of luck.

Caledon Creek at Heart Lake RdWhat about the streams and creeks of the Credit River Valley system that wind their way through pit ponds and intersect with one another to form the vast network of surface and underground waterways?

As an example, let's consider Caledon Creek. It's a significant waterway that links the Humber and Credit Rivers.
It's a corridor of environmental sensitivity which is the home and mainstay of numerous species - some of them endangered.
It supports extensive networks of interconnecting ecological features.

The pit lakes are superimposed on the natural course of the many tributaries of the Creek forcing it to flow in and out of the pits.  All Alton and Caledon Village wells are GUDI wells (which stands for Groundwater Under Direct Influence of surface water). Because of these conditions, any contaminant entering the man-modified water system at any point upstream has a better chance of finding its way to a vulnerable well.

We need to act before it's too late. A high risk aquifer study would determine the level of threat to our community as a whole. A threat to any aquifer is one more threat to the entire water delivery system of southern Ontario.

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