Residents call for review after data from local gravel company used to justify expanding areas for aggregate extraction in Peel
James Dick Construction Limited (JDCL), one of the largest aggregate operators in the Town of Caledon, provided studies and data used to update mapping for the Region of Peel and Town of Caledon’s high potential mineral aggregate resource areas (HPMARA). The same company now has a representative sitting on the Town’s Aggregate Resources Community Working Group, a situation residents are saying is a clear conflict of interest.
At the first meeting of the working group, Cheryl Connors, a resident of Palgrave who sits on the committee, said a representative from the Region was present and shared that private bore hole testing results from JDCL had been used to update the mapping. These maps are used to identify areas with the highest potential for plentiful aggregate extraction.
“I was floored by that information,” Connors, who ran unsuccessfully in the October municipal election for Ward 4, told The Pointer. “How does one private company get to bring in their private borehole well test results, and we're going to open up these massive new resource areas based on that?”
Existing mapping in the Region of Peel and Town of Caledon’s Official plans do not reflect the most up to date and accurate information, Mark Head, Manager of Integrated Planning and Tara Buonpensiero, Director of Planning at the Region of Peel told The Pointer in an email statement. They noted that updates to the HPMARA mapping were guided by data from the Ontario Geological Survey—a database maintained by the Government of Ontario—which included borehole data provided by JDCL. Head and Buonpensiero assured that the borehole data was verified by OGS and used to update bedrock mapping in Peel in 2015.
“The OGS follows an established methodology to update their aggregate resource mapping and considers borehole and well recorded information in provincial databases along with other information to prepare and update mapping,” Head and Buonpensiero wrote.
In an email statement to The Pointer, the Town of Caledon made contradictory claims about the source of the data used to inform the updated HPMARA blueprint. A spokesperson told The Pointer the updated mapping was based on Ontario Geological Survey (OGS) data completed in 2009 and 2015, and the Aggregate Resources Inventory Paper—two resources made available by the Government of Ontario. The spokesperson noted it is the Town’s understanding that these resources are “informed by private borehole data”.
However, when asked about the clear conflict of interest created by allowing a private company to provide data that will be used to potentially expand the area for aggregate extraction around the Town, the spokesperson said private industry data was not used in the development of the HPMARA. In the same sentence, the Town neglected to comment on whether there is a pecuniary interest present with JDCL sitting on the working group. The Town also did not comment on why an independent consultant was not brought in to review the data used in the mapping on conduct further studies to complement or verify the data provide by JDCL.
The purpose of the HPMARA and CHPMARA mapping is to determine where mineral aggregate resources lie. A complex process that is not always accurate.
“There's nothing nefarious about it. It's just a factual document that says, hey, this is where the raw resource is,” Greg Sweetnam, Vice President of JDCL, told The Pointer. “So yeah, as new information comes available, the maps will change, but they're only changing to get closer to what the reality is in the ground, to actually reflect what's really there.”
Sweetnam did not comment on the potential conflict with James Dick’s involvement in the process and instead reiterated the importance of having industry expertise present.
Changes to the HPMARA/CHPMARA mapping of aggregate resources in Caledon.
(Town of Caledon)
According to its website, the James Dick family has been present in Caledon for seven decades. JDCL currently operates a pit just south of Charleston Sideroad on the east side of Highway 10. The Aggregate Policy Review, adds the majority of HPMARA lands in the northern reaches of Caledon Village, a few kilometres north of the existing James Dick pit and in Mono Mills to the northwest. It’s a happenstance that Connors says is too coincidental to not be in favour of JDCL.
Just because land has aggregate and is designated under the HPMARA, does not mean a company has the upper hand in winning a bid for a pit or quarry. In the early 2000s, JDCL submitted an application to the Town of Caledon for the Rockfort Quarry which would be located at the intersection of Old Base Line and Winston Churchill Boulevard in southwest Caledon. The Town and residents fought back doggedly against the application and after a 13-year fight, a decision was made by the Ontario Land Tribunal to not allow the quarry after James Dick was unable to prove there would be no “unacceptable impacts” to the surrounding community.
It’s not the only time James Dick has moved to expand its operations around Caledon. In 2017, JDCL submitted an application to expand its Erin pit into the western reaches of Caledon. It also was eventually declined by the OLT.
These two examples show that just because land is mapped under CHPMARA, it does not mean it will be approved for aggregate operations, but the increasing amount of land designated under CHPMARA could lead to an increased number of applications for extraction. The aggregate industry also has provincial legislation on their side which does not require these companies to prove there is an actual need for the new pit or quarry. This “no need to show need” policy has been heavily criticized by those calling for reform of the systems governing these extractive industries in Ontario.
In Caledon’s existing Official Plan, approximately 6,000 hectares are listed as having high potential for aggregate extraction around Caledon. In the updated mapping, over 2,000 hectares is proposed to be added with 1,100 hectares being removed. It amounts to a net increase of approximately 1,000 hectares of land that has the potential for aggregate extraction. It means residents could see more valuable greenspace and farmland scraped barren and gutted of any natural value. The scars the aggregate industry creates are visible in the desolate and pock-marked earth that dots Caledon.
An example of the damage the aggregate industry has caused around the Town of Caledon.
Regardless of how the new mapping was produced, Connors said she was more shocked when she found out that a representative from JDCL sits on the Aggregate Resources Community Working Group.
The Town stated that the purpose of the working group is to “liaise with residents to bring a variety of perspectives to the [Official Plan review], to inform the work of the consultant and Town staff.”
“We are working with these engaged Caledon residents to receive their input to assist the Town in developing the best policies on mineral aggregate resources in its’ Official Plan to protect rural communities and our natural environment,” a spokesperson for the Town stated.
Given this definition, Connors questions whether the process can be completely impartial when a private aggregate company is allowed to sit in on community meetings designed to update policies that directly impact the aggregate industry.
“I don't have a problem with meeting with them to discuss issues, but they shouldn't be part of the process,” she said.
The Town told The Pointer that they requested participation in the working group from the Ontario Stone Sand and Gravel Association (OSSGA) and the group chose JDCL to be its representative. Sweetnam said he sat as a representative for JDCL and the OSSGA when Caledon was first producing its aggregate policies in the 1990s. During this process, Sweetnam said JDCl was able to provide perspective to community members who were not very knowledgeable on the industry.
But when the current working group members were being chosen, there was a discussion from council on what criteria should be used to choose the six community members. It was eventually decided upon that criteria like proximity to a quarry was more important than knowledge on the industry.
Connors made a verbal objection to the presence of JDCL at the first working group meeting on July 26, which she said received no response. Working group members were also told by the Town’s hired consultant, Mark Dorfman, to provide their comments on matters discussed in writing and that the policies in the Official Plan Review had already been completed. Given this information, Connors said she felt that the voices of the community and the working group members were being silenced.
On August 10, Connors composed an email addressing Mayor Annette Groves and council on the conflict of interest present during the working group meetings. She expressed her frustration, given the results of the Auditor General’s investigation into the PC government for the removal of Greenbelt lands, about the influence powerful construction and development companies have over municipal decisions.
“This one private company has been given exclusive, private access to Region of Peel and Town of Caledon staff to influence the revision of our Town of Caledon aggregate resource mapping to their great financial benefit. The value of the new resource area is likely in the millions of dollars. This is not insignificant,” she wrote. “I ask again that they be removed from the Working Group and the new mapping be rejected for the grossly inappropriate way it has been developed.”
The email has received no response from Groves, other members of council or town staff.
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