This week a victory for potato farmers and a reminder that poorly devised mine plans can and should face tough criticism in the public domain. As a native Ontarian, I can’t help but share some perspective and links on the matter.
In the rolling hillsides north of Toronto, the thought of a limestone mega-quarry disrupting rural paradise was too much to stomach for residents. A petition of some 140,000 signatures forced the proponent to make a quiet retreat after a long-fought PR debacle.
With a growing demand for aggregate to furnish the region’s infrastructure explosion, the Highland Companies proposed the development of the Melanchton Quarry – the scale of which may more appropriately merit the designation “mine” than quarry. My attention was first drawn to the story while colleagues were writing the BC Groundwater Modelling Guidelines. Groundwater use being a contentious issue at the Melanchton site, I was eager to read their proposal and the highly-touted plans for groundwater management, progressive reclamation, and parallel farming operations on the site. What could be found in the publicly filed documents appeared little more than fantastical reclamation drawings and artistic renderings of water tables gently lowered and raised at will during the quarry advance.
In the summer of 2011, the Ontario Ministry of Natural Resources had this to say in the matter:
Concerns have been raised regarding the application put forward by Highland Companies for a licence to operate a quarry in the Township of Melancthon. No decision on the application is imminent as this application is in the very early stages of the rigorous review process under the Aggregate Resources Act.
Over 2,000 formal objections to the proposal were weighed by the Province at the time and more would follow. Much of the public backlash stemmed from beliefs that Highland knowingly deceived the Melanchton residents, telling them initially that the land would be used for farming – not mining.
This article reveals Ministry concerns over Highland’s understanding of the site hydrogeology and the quarry’s potential impact on the local environment:
In April, Ontario’s Ministry of the Environment released a report criticizing Highland’s application and assessment. Technical support section manager Carl Slater wrote to the Ministry of Natural Resources, saying The Highland Companies application fails to “demonstrate a three dimensional understanding of the geology, hydrogeology and hydrology of the [proposed quarry] site,” citing numerous discrepancies between the application text and the company’s own data.
This week, the PR agency representing the Highland Companies, Hill and Knowlton Strategies, offered the following concession on behalf of their client:
“The Highland Companies (Highland) announced today that it is withdrawing its application to develop a quarry in Melancthon Township. Highland also intends to discontinue its efforts to restore the rail corridor through Dufferin County. In addition, Highland announced that John Lowndes has resigned from his role as President and has no further involvement with the company.”
You can read the full media release at this link.
John Scherer of the Highland Companies remarks:
While we believe that the quarry would have brought significant economic benefit to Melancthon Township and served Ontario’s well-documented need for aggregate, we acknowledge that the application does not have sufficient support from the community and government to justify proceeding with the approval process.
Material related to the mega-quarry application is nowhere to be found on the company’s website today, though old versions on the web paint the idyllic picture of mining and farming existing in harmony:
We are developing an aggregate quarry in Melancthon Township. The site of the Melancthon Quarry was carefully selected so that our aggregate operations could be conducted in an environmentally, socially and economically responsible manner. Our plan is to progressively rehabilitate the site to agricultural and associated uses. The proposed Melancthon Quarry is designed as a state-of-the-art and modern operation.
A skillfully crafted proposition, but ultimately not enough hard science, thoughtful engineering, or transparency to bolster confidence in the project.
Though Highland’s mining dreams have been dashed, the question remains: If not in Melanchton, then where?