Caledon continues to lag behind on critical aggregate studies; residents take lead in quarry opposition
Caledon Town staff have been repeatedly admonished by council and residents for failing to act quickly to update policies surrounding aggregate operations, including controversial blasting quarries, within the mostly rural municipality. Despite failing to meet several of their own deadlines, staff are continuing to delay this crucial work.
In late September, councillors voted unanimously to extend the Town’s interim control bylaw (ICBL), which maintains a freeze on new aggregate operations within designated areas of the town for an additional year. Staff recommended an extension of the ICBL in order to allow more time to update the Town’s policies around air quality, First Nations consultations, and impacts on natural heritage, to name a few, which have been identified as deficient when compared to the other Top Ten Aggregate Producing Municipalities in Ontario (TAPMO). Applicants for new aggregate operations have 50 days to appeal the extended bylaw to the Ontario Land Tribunal (OLT). This 50-day period will expire next week on November 15th. The largest of these proposed operations is the mega blasting quarry currently being proposed by Canada Building Materials (CBM) on a large swath of land near Cataract. The company did not reply to The Pointer’s request for comment on whether it plans to appeal the extension of the temporary control bylaw which prevents the project from moving forward. A spokesperson for the company previously told The Pointer CBM wanted to avoid the Ontario Land Tribunal at all costs.
CBM, a subsidiary of the Brazilian company Votorantim Cimentos, is planning to build an 800-acre blasting quarry in the Village of Cataract. Residents have numerous concerns about the proposal, including impacts on the environment, water and air quality, traffic and other and public safety risks from things like flyrock, a potentially deadly outcome from blasting quarry operations.
“Quite honestly, it was a do or die step because without the extra year, we couldn't possibly have achieved our goals,” David Sylvester, president of the Forks of the Credit Preservation Group (FCPG) and a member of the Town’s Aggregate Resources Community Working Group, said at the FCPG’s meeting last month. “Bottom line this interim control Bylaw is a once in a generation opportunity. We simply can't afford to mismanage it.”
The Forks of the Credit Preservation Group has hired its own team of experts to help fight the proposed blasting quarry, including one of Ontario’s leading environmental lawyers, David Donnelley.
(Alexis Wright/The Pointer)
In April, prominent Ontario environmental lawyer David Donnelley, who has been working alongside the FCPG in its opposition to the 800-acre mega quarry project proposed by CBM in Cataract, stated that the Town was running out of time to complete the critical studies needed to update its aggregate policies as, six months into the first year of the ICBL, little had yet to be completed.
It seems as if the warning fell on deaf ears with critical reports continuing to be delayed. At the September 17th planning and development committee meeting—when the motion to extend the ICBL was passed—staff promised to provide an update to council detailing the path forward on October 17th. No such update was provided at the October 17th meeting.
“We understand that the Town planning department has many large files to deal with, but the window to get the ICBL work effectively completed is rapidly closing,” Debra Wilson, a member of the FCPG said. “In the absence of information our concerns are heightened that the Town will not be in a strong position regarding policy development.”
Steve Burke, manager of strategic policy and planning at the Town of Caledon said an update report will now be coming forward on November 21.
“We had always intended to bring a status update on the study to council,” he said, noting that the work to officially extend the ICBL had gotten in the way of staff efforts to provide an update on the ongoing aggregate policy study.
“Initially we thought we would do it with the ICBL extension process but to make sure we met the deadlines we needed to do that in advance,” he said.
The reasoning did not sit well with Councillor Christina Early.
“They are relying on that report so that they can have the conversation with their group and they’ve been very active as a group,” Councillor Early said of the FCPG. “So I just want to make sure that we are very sensitive to that.”
Wilson said it is incredibly concerning for the public, who has yet to be given any formal update on the process including whether experts have been hired, what studies have been completed and what still needs to be completed.
“The concern that the group has is we all know that the timeline is tight, and we know that planning staff appreciates that, but we’re now waiting another month to understand where we’re at,” she said. “Last time, several councillors, Mayor Groves and Chair DeBoer pressed the point ‘are we going to see this in October’ so it’s concerning that we’re not.”
It appears that a short-staffed planning department could be impacting critical work in the town. When discussing a separate planning application, staff shared that given the amount of employee turnover, the Town is struggling to keep up with the workload. It’s not the first time this issue has been brought to councillors’ attention.
In April, former chief planner Antonietta Minichillo admitted that the Town was struggling with a lack of staff resources to handle the number of applications the town is receiving. There is some concern among residents that this pressure has only increased as the Town continues to see a high staff turnover rate.
At the FCPG meeting, one resident asked Mayor Annette Groves to comment on the turnover among senior staff members within town hall. News broke in September that Groves had used her strong mayor powers to hire a new CAO, Nathan Hyde, who was formerly the CAO at the Town of Erin, then began to restructure Town staff including letting Minichillo go.
“One of the things that I promised when I was campaigning was really to change the culture at the town, change the environment that existed in the town for so many years,” Groves said. I don't want you to leave here thinking, ‘Oh, my God, the town's blowing up’. The town is not blowing up. We're looking to make it more open, more friendly, more efficient.”
“I'm confident that we are well served and the community is well served in every area.”
A spokesperson for the Town of Caledon told The Pointer that a new Chief Planner and Director of Planning has yet to be hired, but that senior planner with the Town Carmine Caruso is serving the position in the meantime. The Lead Planner on the CBM file on the Town’s website has also been changed from former planner Sean Kenney to Genevieve Scott.
Despite the lack of action from Town staff, Caledon residents are working to form a unified opposition to the proposed CBM mega quarry. This opposition has already led to the formation of the aggregate resources working group, and the implementation of the ICBL. The FCPG are now working to raise awareness opportunities for residents to raise concerns about the proposal.
There are two applications that will need approval in order for the mega quarry to move forward. The first is a zoning bylaw change and official plan amendment to rezone the lands from agricultural to extractive lands. The second is the application to the Niagara Escarpment Commission for licensing under the Aggregate Resources Act.
The Town of Caledon received the application from CBM in December and has since surpassed the allotted 120 days allotted under the Planning Act to make a decision on the proposal. Planning staff previously noted that it is not uncommon for a decision to take longer than 120 days especially on applications that require a significant amount of additional study.
For over a year, residents of Caledon have been writing to the Town and delegating at council to make their concerns known. While many councillors share the concerns of residents, a refusal on the application at the Town level would most likely result in an appeal to the OLT— a process heavily stacked in favour of the development industry.
Residents are now taking their opposition to the provincial level.
Forks of the Credit Preservation Group has created a letter template for the ease of residents to send in objections.
CBM has now applied to the Ministry of Natural Resources and Forestry for its license to extract and the FCPG is asking residents of Caledon, but also the broader community concerned about the impacts of the quarry, to submit formal objections.
“They could be as broad as ‘I'm not really happy that we're going to lose 60,000 trees in one part of the quarry, which is an awful lot of trees to lose during the time of climate change’,” Wilson said. “Or it could be as personal as ‘I have a private well 500 feet away, and my well is going to go dry or my water could be contaminated’.”
Despite a decrease in the number of residents attending the FCPG meetings — in October 2022 the Alton Legion was filled to the brim whereas last week only about half of the chairs provided were filled — Sylvester, president of the FCPG, said he is not concerned about waning support. He said that while the meeting numbers may be lower, the group is receiving the same kind of support on its campaign in other ways and a resident noted that groups of citizens have begun appointing group leaders of sorts to attend the meeting and give a summary to the broader public.
Given the assurance of overwhelming support, the FCPG has set the goal of receiving 2,000 individual objections to the MNRF.
Objections can be submitted through the FCPG website or by personal email. Objections must be submitted by November 20th.
Email: [email protected]
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