Caledon mayor, council left in the dark on application for blasting quarry
The community of Caledon has been fighting a proposed “mega” blasting quarry in Cataract for years. Despite fierce opposition from various council and community members and repeated calls for increased transparency around the application which has the potential to dramatically change the town’s landscape, council has been seemingly left in the dark on the latest development.
The Pointer obtained an email written by Mayor Annette Groves on March 26 in which she expressed her concerns to staff about being made aware of a rezoning application from CBM Aggregates through a notice in the local paper—not from Town staff.
“You can understand how disappointed both myself and the residents are having found out about this by reading it in the local paper. This further creates a lack of trust between us and the public,” she wrote to the Town’s Director of Planning, Antoinetta Minichillo. “I made a commitment to the residents that everything will be done above board and they would be kept in the loop and finding out about this by reading it in the local paper creates even more distrust and lack of transparency.”
Groves later told The Pointer that council is not generally notified when applications are submitted as staff are delegated the authority to deal with them and only once the application is brought to a public meeting or a staff report would council be informed. However, she said she was caught off guard that an update to a significant application like the blasting quarry was able to fly under the radar.
“With respect to the sensitivity around this particular application, it would have been good to have some notice ahead of time,” she said.
The proposal from CBM Aggregates looks to transform approximately 262 hectares of Caledon countryside in the area of Charleston Sideroad and Main Street/Regional Road 136 into a blasting quarry. If completed, CBM estimates it could extract 2.5 million tonnes of aggregate from the site annually over the next 40 years, through a process that would involve blasting beneath the water table.
CBM Aggregates is part of St. Mary’s Cement Inc. and operates approximately 60 pit and quarry licenses across Ontario. Both companies are part of the North American operations for Brazilian aggregate giant Votorantim Cimentos.
The Pointer reached out to councillors whose wards contain the location for the proposed quarry—Ward 1 Councillor, Lynn Kiernan, and Regional Councillor of Wards 1, 2 and 3, Christina Early. Like Mayor Groves, Councillor Kiernan said she was unaware of the updates to the application before the notice in the paper. Councillor Early did not respond.
Staff also had the opportunity to raise updates on the project to council during a March 21 meeting when the topic of aggregate policy was raised.
“We discussed the Aggregate Task Force at our meeting last Tuesday and at no point was this brought to Council’s attention,” Groves wrote in the email to Minichillo. “You are aware that as a Council we are very concerned with this proposal and we share the same concerns as the residents in the area.”
The Pointer asked Minichillo why the application was not discussed when the conversation took a turn away from the task force and towards the issue of the Town’s Interim Control Bylaw (ICBL) which has placed a hold on approvals of any new aggregate application until October. Minichillo said mentioning the application would have been “inappropriate” as it was not clearly stated on the agenda.
“The item on the agenda was not the ICBL or the application, but rather the Supplemental Aggregate Study and Task Force Town Staff is working on. The focus for the discussion was about aggregate matters across the Town as a whole and discussing a specific application without providing notice on the agenda or to the public would have been inappropriate,” she told The Pointer. “When the question on the ICBL arose, Town staff indicated clearly that an ICBL cannot stop development applications.”
The rezoning and Official Plan amendment applications—both of which are required to allow for the proposed blasting quarry to move forward—were received by the Town in December. Their receipt and the subsequent public notice have created confusion among community members as to why it took three months for any notification to be made to the public.
Minichillo explained the Town has been reviewing the application, and circulating the materials to “external agencies and internal departments for review”.
“An application must be deemed complete (all the pieces required) before public notice,” she said.
The “pieces” referenced are the numerous studies and reports for the proposed quarry which analyze everything from traffic impacts to hydrological changes and effects on air quality. A list of the materials submitted can be found on the Town’s website. In accordance with the Planning Act, upon completion of the application, anyone living within 120 metres of the subject site must be notified.
The application was deemed “complete” by the Town on March 23 and, according to Tony Sevelka, a resident of Cataract and vocal critic of the quarry proposal, he received a formal notice of the application on his doorstep on March 28. The purpose of the notice, as stated in the Planning Act, is to officially start the public consultation process.
At a Planning and Development Committee meeting on April 11, council passed a motion to have the Town exceed this minimum notification requirement and extend it to anyone living within one kilometre of the subject sites in future. Minichillo explained that the motion will allow the Town to cast a wider net, as due to Caledon’s geography, the 120-metre buffer zone sometimes only includes a single property.
“Any feedback collected will be a key component of the reviewing and consideration of the applications made. Any comments and questions made by the public are provided to the applicant and the applicant is required to consider input and provide responses,” Minichillo stated.
But it remains unclear why councilors were not informed about an update to a major policy application before the Town. When asked by The Pointer, Minichillo would not explain why there were no discussions between staff and council ahead of the public notification.
One of the major concerns of citizens — and a confusion shared by Mayor Groves — was how this application could be accepted while an interim control bylaw (ICBL) is currently in place. In October, council approved an ICBL with the purpose of halting the development of new pits and quarries within the High Potential Mineral Aggregate Resource Area, which covers a large area of Ward 1 in northwest Caledon.
“Essentially these bylaws prohibit development activity to allow the municipality to conduct a land use study, examine planning issues and establish appropriate planning policies and zoning,” a staff report from October reads.
This map shows the areas subjected to the Interim Control Bylaw (ICBL) which will remain in place until at least October 2023.
(Town of Caledon)
ICBLs are tools used by municipalities to press pause on development to allow for further study. In this case, following a push from members of the public, councillors wanted more time to analyze how to better manage its aggregate resources moving forward and conduct a review of aggregate policies along with the Region of Peel.
Minichillo explained that an ICBL restricts land usage, it cannot restrict applications. Under the Planning Act the Town must continue to accept and process new applications, but it does not guarantee approval just because an application is received.
Under the Planning Act, an ICBL can only be imposed for one year. When the timeline expires, council can choose to extend the bylaw for another year, but this process can be appealed.
Many Caledon residents viewed the ICBL as a method for stopping future aggregate projects. However, as these proposals can take several years to study and prepare, it’s unclear how a single year would have any impact on a proposal like CBM’s.
CBM owns another pit in Hillsburgh which has been in operation for decades. In 2012, the Town received an application for expansion of the pit. It wasn’t until eight years later that the company was given the go ahead to double the size of the pit.
Residents are left wondering if the ICBL is incapable of delaying these applications, why was it implemented in the first place, and why was it approved so close to an election? At a special meeting of council on October 20, when the ICBL was implemented, numerous delegates criticized the move as nothing more than an election tactic by council members seeking votes. The Ontario municipal election was held on October 24.
The Reform Gravel Mining Coalition (RGMC), views the ICBL as an effective tool for municipalities to halt rapid expansion of the aggregate industry. The RGMC is a partnership between Environmental Defence, Council of Canadians, Water Watchers, and the Wilderness Committee. As part of its Municipal Action Plan, the group is looking to see similar usage of the ICBL across the province.
“The goal of this pause is for municipalities to work with residents to elevate gravel mining policy to the level of best practices. In the ten days since we launched the initiative, three communities have contacted RGMC to ask for support in approaching their municipal Councils to implement an ICBL,” Mike Balkwill, Campaign Director of RGMC, said in a statement on April 13. “Community by community, RGMC is uniting local needs into an ambitious provincial strategy.”
Currently, the 800 acres proposed to be rezoned from agricultural to extractive lands are active farms, growing grains like barley and wheat. One acre, or 43,560 square feet, is approximately the same size as one American football field.
(Alexis Wright/The Pointer)
The lands in Cataract being eyed by CBM are currently zoned for agricultural use, and include areas classified as Prime farmland, meaning they contain the highest quality crop growing soil in Canada. Soil analysis shows that Ontario currently holds 50 percent of the best available farmland of the entire country, but it's disappearing at a rapid rate.
According to the 2021 census by Statistics Canada, Ontario accounted for over a quarter of the total farms in the country. The number of farms reported has declined 2.5 percent—over 1,300 farms—since 2016, higher than the national rate of decline of 1.9 percent. The total farm area in the province decreased by 11.8 million acres in just five years.
In June 2022, President of the Ontario Federation of Agriculture, Peggy Brekveld, said, “To see a daily loss of 319 acres of farmland is a shocking jolt of reality that is simply not sustainable if we hope to have any kind of food sovereignty or independence in Ontario.”
Not only will this blasting quarry tear up vital farmland, but the environmental impacts could reverberate across much of the Region. The risks to crucial ecosystems, wildlife and humans include noise; air pollution like sulfur dioxide and dust particles; flyrock; water pollution and diversion—especially when work extends below the water table; and blast-induced ground vibration.
There is no way to know or test beforehand whether a particular blast has the capacity to cause a certain type of vibration as each quarry is unique in terms of density and the type of aggregate, which can determine how intense each blast will be.
As this proposal will blast below the water table, from which the Credit River is fed, there is a very high risk of changing the course of the nearby groundwater, leading to a diversion of flow and possible cascading failure of the entire river ecosystem. The quarry risks not only the systems within and nearby the lands, but everything downstream as well such as the Forks of the Credit Provincial Park.
The blasts can also harm wildlife for kilometres around the site with noise and pollution impacting their ability to find mates, nest, forage, or hunt.
On its website dedicated to this project, CBM states any of these potential impacts will be mitigated through the study process.
The Credit River, fed from headwaters in Mono, Orangeville, and Erin, has two branches: the West flows through the Town of Erin towards Belfountain in Caledon where it meets the East branch just before entering Forks of the Credit Provincial Park.
(Alexis Wright/The Pointer)
The Town is now accepting applications for residents who wish to take part in the Aggregate Resource Community Working Group. The group will consist of up to six citizens with priority given to residents who live in Ward 1, those living near a pit or quarry, and those with expertise in the aggregate industry. Anyone wanting to take part can apply on the Town’s website.
Forks of the Credit Preservation Group is hosting a meeting tonight (April 18) at 7 p.m at the Alton Legion in which Mayor Groves, town councillors and staff will be present to discuss the application.
Email: [email protected]
Email: [email protected]
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