Hidden Behind Berms.... No End In Sight

Almost 30 years ago, while speaking with Toronto Star columnist Michele Landsburg, Caledon Councillor John Alexander pointed to 400 acres of aggregate development  around Caledon Village 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 intervening years those pit and quarry operations have been steadily added to. Today aggregate developers own approximately 4600 acres of land most of which is currently being mined from Caledon Village to Erin and up to the Orangeville border.

Aggregate development is being anticipated in other areas of Caledon. Shaw's Creek Road is one area where aggregate concerns are currently assembling considerable land mass for future industrial use.

The map below dates to 2017 and offers a picture of the trajectory of pits around Caledon Village. 

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

The Tipping Point

In 2011-12 Highland Farms planned to develop a 2400 acre Melancthon Mega Quarry in a community north of Orangeville Ontario. Media attention was concentrated on its huge acreage, with its effect on water resources and surrounding environment and its encroachment on prime agricultural land. Media and environmental activists joined in a robust and persistent campaign against the proposal. This resulted in a rare and unusual decision by the Ontario government to put the proposal to full Environmental Review - a lengthy and meticulous process. In the face of this response the company withdrew its licence application and eventually sold the property. 

The Melancthon victory was based on the enormous size of the operation being proposed and it's cumulative, permanent and irreversible impact on the biosphere  which it proposed to destroy. This impact required a formal Environmental Review.

The unacceptable proportions of the Melancthon Quarry as it had been proposed have already been surpassed in Caledon. Early on, in the absence of a comprehensive environmental protection plan, in the years when many of these aggregate mines received their licences, the operations that started up around Caledon Village piggy-backed one on the other to form thousand acre corridors which today pose as serious a threat to the biosphere as Melancthon did.

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

So 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. Although it is in an area of high environmental sensitivity, the proposal calls for extraction 75 ft below the water table in order to maximize production.

Blueland Farms is a property development company that specializes in converting land from rural to industrial aggregate production. It is currently steering the McCormick Farm property through the licence acquisition process. To do this it must navigate through a number of agencies including the Town of Caledon, the Niagara Escarpment Commission and ultimately the Ministry of Natural Resources and Forestry (MNRF) which is the aggregate licence granting branch of the government. So this is the traditional review process. 

This review process is based on a site specific view of the McCormick Farm: Here is 100 acres waiting to be used productively. The aggregate industry supported by the Aggregate Resources Act would prefer us to look at this development through a site specific lens. This distracts our attention from the broader reality of the cumulative effect of serial development across a biosphere within which connective relationships between interdependent life forms slowly die.  

The fact is that we can no longer afford to see applications like McCormick in a vacuum. The McCormick farm backs on to hundreds of acres of pits and a quarry. The property itself contains Provincially Significant wetland that is part of a wetland complex and is an integral part of an area of rich regenerating environmental biodiversity which contains a kettle lake as well as being within an active social community.

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 clear 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   (Credit Valley/ Greater Toronto Area/ Central Lake Ontario) Source Protection Committee, 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 and bring the environment back from the tipping point on which it is currently teetering. 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.

| back to top |