We know it's a busy time of year, but please take a small break from your holiday preparations to make a big difference in Ontario's future. The provincial government continues with its review of the outdated Aggregate Resources Act and is seeking comments before December 15th!
As you'll recall, the review of the ARA was prompted by the Stop the Mega Quarry campaign in 2011. There were public hearings in 2012, a disappointing report from the Standing Committee on General Government and then an encouraging statement from the government that signalled greater protection for agricultural land when it is threatened by pits and quarries.
We've drafted a template letter outlining Food & Water First's expectations for a revised ARA. We're also providing you with the link to the Ministry of Natural Resources for you to file your comment. So easy!
You can simply copy this letter into the form provided or adjust it to include your own thoughts and expertise. Food & Water First is keen to protect all of Ontario's Class 1 farmland, but other classes of prime farmland are also at risk.
Feel free to change this letter to support the concerns of your own community. If you prefer to send the letter via Canada Post, the address is included!
To your keyboards!
Aggregate Resources Officer
Ministry of Natural Resources and Forestry
300 Water Street
RE: EBR 012-5444
Dear Ms. Rosa,
It's been three years since the proposed Highland Mega Quarry was defeated by a citizens' movement determined to protect a swath of Class 1 farmland and an aquifer from being mined for aggregate in Dufferin County. It was because of the Mega Quarry that the government ordered a review of the Aggregate Resources Act (ARA) in 2011 and followed up with public hearings in 2012. The government's response to the ARA review by the Standing Committee on General Government was also promising:
"On the matter of aggregate extraction on prime agricultural lands, the government believes that there may be a need to go beyond the Committee's recommendation to address concerns expressed by some of our agricultural stakeholders and through various public interest groups, about the need to better protect farmland."
I am impressed with the work the government has done to engage various stakeholders in the process of updating the ARA. I am a supporter of the Food & Water First citizens' campaign, the legacy of the Stop the Mega Quarry movement. I am writing to urge the province to impose clear restrictions on aggregate operations impacting prime farmland, in particular Class 1 agricultural soil. As well, I urge the province not to allow any below-the-water table aggregate extraction in key farming regions.
The lessons of the Mega Quarry are worth reviewing. The proposed open pit mine would have sprawled across 2,300-acres and plunged more than 200-feet below the water table, destroying Class 1 soil and diverting 600-million-litres of fresh water each day in perpetuity. The Highland Companies was backed by the Baupost Group, a Boston hedge fund, and it told its investors it selected Melancthon Township in Dufferin County because of its small population and because "Ontario has the least effective legislative and regulatory framework governing resource extraction in North America". This must change. The ARA must not clear the way for another Mega Quarry application or similar aggregate operations that destroy prime farmland and risk our fresh water resources.
I am pleased to see the government's Blueprint for Change contains a proposed Agricultural Impact Assessment (AIA), the recognition of cumulative burdens on communities and the environments, and independent expert analysis of 'soil capability'.
However, I urge the government to take the bolder steps it proposed to "better protect farmland." Our prime farmland (Class 1-4) is a non-renewable resource capable of growing our food in perpetuity. But once it is paved or mined, it's gone forever. The revised ARA should, therefore, include this provision:
Should an aggregate application impact Class 1 farmland or Specialty Crop areas, then the application will be denied.
There's also the issue of water. In its application, Highland said the Mega Quarry was to pump 600-million-litres of water every day, forever. Yet, the company was under no obligation to rehabilitate the pits because the operation would have been below the water table. I strongly believe the revised ARA should also state:
There will be no below-the-water-table extraction allowed that impacts prime farmland or Specialty Crop areas.
Just 5 percent of Canada's land mass is comprised of arable farmland. A mere 0.5 percent is Class I soil, the rarest in the world. Ontario is home to just more than half of Canada's Class 1 farmland, yet we've destroyed nearly 20 percent of it. This is unsustainable and unwise.
Our prime farmland and climate conditions have made Ontario the leading agri-food sector in the country. This robust sector contributes $34-billion to the economy each year and employs more than 700,000 people. This thriving industry relies on Ontario's soil and water.
As our population grows and climate change takes its toll on agriculture and water supplies around the globe, it is even more important for Ontario to preserve key soil and water resources with sound policies. I encourage the government to ensure the revised ARA protects Ontario's prime farmland and water resources for our food security and economic prosperity.
LINK TO COMMENT: Below is the Ministry of Natural Resources form for comments on the ARA review. Fill in your name etc. and copy the letter into the COMMENT BOX. Press SEND and you're done!
ARA Review Comments
Thanks so much! Every letter helps send a strong message to the province. Speak up before December 15th!
Food and Water First Team