Caledon running out of time to complete critical studies for latest blasting quarry proposal, environmental lawyer says
Environmental lawyer David Donnelley, working alongside Forks of the Credit Preservation Group in their opposition to a proposed blasting quarry in Caledon, says the municipality needs to complete critical studies of aggregate resources in the region much faster.
The Alton Legion was filled wall-to-wall with residents Tuesday evening, many of whom expressed mounting concern over an industry that has completely altered much of the rural landscape across Caledon. A massive 800-acre blasting quarry proposal in the Cataract area from CBM Aggregates is currently being considered by Town staff and residents want to know why they and their elected representatives have been kept in the dark.
Cataract is home to the Forks of the Credit Provincial Park, where two branches of the major river diverge; the area features some of the most sensitive watershed ecosystems in the GTA.
Forks of the Credit Provincial Park is surrounded by aggregate extraction, the bright blue bodies of water are a byproduct of the industrial process to pull stone and gravel from the ground.
Blasting quarries remove bedrock, using explosives drilled deep below the surface then detonated to unearth aggregate material used in the construction industry. They can create fine particulate air pollution, radically alter the geology of an area, impact watercourses and other subsurface hydrological features, while the movement in and out of heavy equipment and commercial transport trucks can disrupt entire corridors. Noise pollution and the devastation of habitat that impacts plant and animal life at a geological ecosystem level are some of the other consequences.
The Town is not working in their best interest, many of the residents gathered said. Caledon staff sat at the front of the room facing a sea of angry faces in the couple hundred chairs that filled the Legion hall. Caledon Mayor Annette Groves; Antoinetta Minichillo, Chief Planner and Director of Planning; Chris Barnett, legal counsel for the Town of Caledon; were joined by Ward 1 Councillor Lynn Kiernan and Ward 1, 2 and 3 Regional Councillor Christina Early.
“As you recall, last time we met, our request to your mayor and council was to pass an interim control bylaw,” Donnelley said. “And to your Mayor and Council's credit, on October 18, 2022, they passed the interim control bylaw that we all asked for … But we are now behind; it is time to catch up.”
The interim control bylaw (ICBL) was unanimously passed by Caledon’s former council shortly before the October municipal election. While it cannot stop pit and quarry applications from being submitted, its purpose is to provide “breathing room” for the Town to update its aggregate policies—something that was originally planned as part of the Region of Peel’s Official Plan process which began in 2013.
Mayor Groves assured residents that all nine council members were opposed to the 800-acre blasting quarry that threatens to tear up large swaths of prime farmland in the northwest corner of the Town and create a still unknown amount of environmental damage.
The assurance from Mayor Groves, and an apology for the lack of communication about the project—which Groves herself has expressed concerns about—was not enough to ease the minds of those in attendance.
“I can assure you that we are going to work extremely hard and fast to make sure that deadline [for the ICBL] is not missed,” Groves said. “We don't want to miss that deadline. We don't want to miss that opportunity.”
Mayor Annette Groves apologized profusely to her constituents for the lack of communication around the quarry application; she expressed the same frustration to staff recently.
(Alexis Wright/The Pointer)
Despite the blanket assurance from both council and Town staff they provided little evidence to show how it would be possible to conduct studies and put safeguards in place to control the aggregate industry (which has expanded across the Town for decades with hardly any Council oversight) before the interim control bylaw expires.
“This is not a sprint, it’s a marathon,” Minichillo said. The comment did very little to appease residents who are concerned that the necessary work will not be completed by the end of the ICBL.
“I do this for a living, organizing experts and producing studies, they take more than six months,” Donnelley said. “It's possible this will get done, but once those studies are completed, they have to be passed for public consultation, it has to go back to council, it has to have staff recommendation that has to come up for a vote. We are on an incredibly short timeline here.”
The policies under review with the Region of Peel will dictate what local governments will require of new aggregate operations. According to a Region of Peel report from June 2021 “emerging trends and best practices will be examined including comprehensive rehabilitation planning, (and) adaptive management planning.”
Aggregate operations often leave entire sections of Caledon scarred, with massive mounds of extracted Earth that sit for years and gaping craters left unfilled by the companies who tear the aggregate material out from deep below the surface. Often, because they stop just before the point when they are contractually obligated to fill in these massive, cavernous holes and mitigate the damage to restore the landscape to a semblance of its former natural state, this work is left in limbo.
As a result, parts of Caledon look more like a moonscape than a continuation of the GTA’s most naturally beautiful untouched expanse.
One example of the damage the aggregate industry causes to the natural environment.
(Youtube/James Dick Construction)
Typically, when aggregate applications are submitted, they are assessed using the policy regime that is in place at the time of submission. However, Donnelley explained there are caveats within the Planning Act to allow policies developed within the period of an ICBL to apply to all applications, even those submitted prior to the approval of any potential safeguards. This puts critical importance on the Town of Caledon to complete its work with the Region of Peel within the one year period of the current ICBL, which ends in October, so that any new policies can be applied to the CBM application. The ICBL can be extended for another year, but that can be appealed.
So far, things have moved at a glacial pace.
In a delegation to the Planning and Development Committee in March, David Sylvester, President of the Forks of the Credit Preservation Group (FCPG) suggested creating a clear timeline for critical processes and policies that must be reviewed which would be shared with the working group made up of citizens and staff. This was picked up by both Councillors Sheen and Kiernan, who advocated for time-specific goals that could be shared with the working group in order to track progress.
Minichillo said such goals had yet to be put in place because the working group staff will be partnering with on the consultation process has yet to be formed.
The original intent was to have the aggregate working group study completed within the timeframe of the interim control bylaw. With the transition to a new council, followed by the holiday break, it has now been almost six months since the implementation of the bylaw, and the process of the working group is only just beginning.
“I fear we will not finish in time, five months have elapsed since the beginning of this ICBL process, and that represents almost 50 percent of the first year deadline,” Sylvester said.
Many Caledon residents are vehemently opposed to the blasting quarry in Cataract.
(Alexis Wright/The Pointer)
At the March committee meeting, as well as the recent meeting held by the FCPG, Town staff were vague about the procedures and reviews that needed to be undertaken by Town staff and the working group. Minichillo listed the checklist of tasks that were already completed, but did not explain to residents how the major policy reviews would be completed by October when the ICBL expires.
The Town is now in a desperate scramble to make up for lost time. A presentation to the FCPG in October showed that of the Top Aggregate Producing Municipalities in Ontario (TAMPO), Caledon is falling severely behind, ranking last out of the top ten aggregate producers for its policies. The nine themes that TAMPO used to rank the top aggregate producing municipalities were air quality, blasting, cumulative effects, First Nations consultation, haul routes, hydrogeological, natural heritage, noise and surface water.
At a previous meeting held by the FCPG, the community was made aware that Caledon’s aggregate policies are severely lacking.
Given all of the changes that have been imposed on municipalities through several pieces of PC legislation over the past six months, Minichillo said the Town of Caledon has been investing a significant amount of time and money to work within the new legislation and try and figure out their new role as they previously had the Region of Peel and the conservation authorities to work in collaboration with.
“I'm going to be very honest with you. Yes, we're struggling from a resource perspective,” Minichillo said. “We will be bringing forward a report in the near future to council to see how we can pull some of the gaps that have been created and some of the vulnerabilities that have been created due to the legislative changes.”
In October, when the ICBL was first discussed, former councillor Barb Shaughnessy stated that to her knowledge, the Town of Caledon does not have an aggregate planner on its team, a claim the Town did not deny at the time.
The Pointer reached out to the Town to clarify whether or not they had an aggregate planner. Minichillo explained that applications, such as the one from CBM, are circulated both within the Town’s departments, including, but not limited to engineering, transportation, landscape and finance, and to external agencies including the Region of Peel and conservation authorities.
Since the Town does not have a specific aggregate planner within its team, it has outsourced help from Mark Dorfman, a Registered Professional Planner and Municipal Planner Consultant with significant experience in the aggregate industry. Dorfman worked with Caledon in the early 2000s when the Town fought the Rockfort Quarry by James Dick Construction Ltd. in southwest Caledon.
While the Town has engaged the necessary expertise to conduct aggregate studies and reviews, Donnelley questioned why this was another process that was done behind the backs of the citizens.
“We have a lot of expertise in this field,” he said. “Maybe Mark Dorfman is the right person for the studies, but maybe he isn't.”
In order to hold the Town accountable to the tight timeline and make sure as much of the process is as transparent as possible, residents have asked for monthly updates from the Town on the status of the application and the reviews associated with it. Updates can be found on the Town’s website and residents can join a mailing list by sending a message to [email protected]. The FCPG will also be holding subsequent meetings to foster conversations between Town staff and residents.
The next meeting will be held on May 17 at 7 p.m. at the Alton Legion.
Email: [email protected]
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