Caledon residents and community working group at wits' end over process to control gravel industry
Caledon’s drawn out disagreement with aggregate giant Votorantim Cimentos over the fate of an 800-acre plot of land in the hamlet of Cataract has sparked more questions about the Town’s woeful leadership on the file.
Foot dragging and a lack of basic management to keep an ongoing aggregate policy review process—to introduce strict, detailed rules for extraction in the municipality—are putting Caledon at risk of losing battles with giant gravel companies itching to open more quarries across the area’s sensitive rural landscape.
Caledon’s natural beauty has been invaded by huge quarry operations for decades.
(Youtube/James Dick Construction)
Now, four members of a working group created by the Town to help shape these effective policies to control the aggregate industry have sent a blistering letter to council demanding their concerns be addressed by senior staff.
The list of issues raised is long, and alarming.
The working group members have threatened to stop meeting until the Town addresses their concerns and gets the process to establish strict policies for the aggregate industry back on track.
“Draft policies were produced without respect for the process approved by Council which was focused on public input to policy formulation,” the four members wrote in the letter which was included on the agenda for last week’s planning and development committee meeting. “It has also proceeded without respect for the role of the Working Group. We were told from the outset what the policies and the mapping would be and they have now been drafted before the process provided for in the TOR (Terms of Reference) has even begun.”
Jane Thompson, David Sylvester, Cheryl Connors and Martin Bamford, who sit on the working group brought together to help shape the new policies that will protect Caledon from harmful aggregate extraction going forward, all signed the letter (two of the group’s members did not sign it).
According to the Town of Caledon website, the purpose of the working group is to “ensure community perspectives are considered in the review and development of updated Official Plan aggregate policies.”
In their delegations to the committee last week, Thompson and Sylvester said this function is not being met, the aggregate policy review process is far behind schedule and draft policies were brought forward by staff with little input from the working group. The group’s letter to council demands action by senior staff.
Almost a year and a half after community meetings began, held by the Forks of the Credit Preservation Group, and 15 months into an interim control by law to pause activity on pits and quarries, local officials have missed deadlines and failed to produce any meaningful work to protect Caledon from the aggressive aggregate industry.
A critical Auditor General report in December on the Ontario government’s hands-off approach to the industry that allows operators to do as they please, underscored issues Caledon residents have been raising for years. After former mayor Allan Thompson and former councillors like Jennifer Innis showed little interest in holding giant aggregate companies accountable, following their departure in 2022 (Thompson retired, Innis was defeated by Annette Groves in the mayor’s race) the Town finally committed to update its ineffective policies to protect sensitive lands from reckless extraction practices.
But the lack of effort has left Caledon residents, particularly those who have been active in the fight against new pits and quarries, fed up, demanding that council and staff reaffirm their commitment to stand up for the community in the face of aggregate industry expansion.
(Alexis Wright/The Pointer)
The letter from the working group members highlights a background report provided by staff, and points out alarming gaps compared to what the terms of reference for the work laid out.
“The Terms of Reference call for input from [the working group] on the background report—None has been asked for or received…It has been completely ignored and bypassed.” The background report “is primarily a selective and inaccurate historic review of Provincial regulation of aggregate operations; Provincial planning for aggregate resources has for decades focused on protecting the resource and allowing extraction… the Background Report ignores advances in understanding and protecting the natural environment, water resources and human health and safety”.
The group demands staff address what Sylvester called the “leadership vacuum” and that they hire an outside project manager to lead the remainder of the policy update process. Staff told the committee last week they have now finalized the hiring of a project manager but have not disclosed who it is or their credentials.
It’s unclear how staff brought forward the background report and already began drafting policies, before a project manager to lead the entire process had even been identified. The haphazard management and constant delays brought up by residents were addressed by the head of council.
“Your observation is very accurate,” Mayor Groves said to the delegates. “I've been attending the meetings of the aggregate working group and there are some major challenges there. And your asks, they're not unreasonable. We did waste a lot of time, and [your concerns] should have been addressed before. So I am prepared to take full responsibility.”
Her words did little to mollify the delegates.
“The cart is not before the horse. The cart doesn’t even have a horse,” Thompson, an environmental lawyer with over 30 years of experience and one of the working group members who signed the detailed letter, said in her delegation to the planning and development committee last week.
“We really haven't heard that much at all, which for me has been rather puzzling and mystifying because I thought that our interests were aligned,” Sylvester, another working group member and President of the Forks of the Credit Preservation Group (FCPG), added. “I mean, who wouldn't want to see Caledon’s aggregate policies updated and strengthened?”
The mood at the meeting left residents wondering if the nine elected officials on Town Council, and the staff who stand behind them, have the best interests of the community in mind.
Caledon is significantly behind other major aggregate producing municipalities when it comes to aggregate policies.
Shortly before the October 2022 municipal election, the FCPG presented a study from the Top Ten Aggregate Producing Municipalities of Ontario (TAPMO) ranking them on the effectiveness of their policies. Caledon was last; though none of them performed well. The score was based on cumulative policies in nine themes including air quality, blasting, cumulative effects, First Nations consultation, haul routes, hydrogeological impacts, natural heritage disruption, noise and surface water issues.
Faced with the realization the Town was in no position to fight Votorantim Cimentos on its plans to build a mega blasting quarry next to the hamlet of Cataract, Ward 1 Councillor Lynn Kiernan and former regional councillor Innis suddenly called a special meeting to impose an interim control bylaw (ICBL) on new aggregate operations within the Town. Innis had ignored earlier calls by Groves to take action on the industry, but after residents made it an election issue in 2022 the developer-friendly former councillor who was vying to become mayor changed her tune and supported the use of a bylaw to temporarily halt new aggregate applications until Caledon could review its policies and adopt much more effective rules.
After Groves defeated Innis, to aid in the aggregate policy review process, the Town of Caledon formed a community-based working group to provide expertise and the lived experience of those living near a pit or quarry.
David Sylvester is a member of the Aggregate Resources Community Working Group and the President of the Forks of the Credit Preservation Group which has been leading the fight against a proposed mega quarry in Cataract.
(Alexis Wright/The Pointer)
“We have sat in for meetings, and we have listened to lengthy descriptions of the work that the Region has done. And we listen to the consultant explaining his views on the approach to policy and reviewing his background report and then reviewing more recently, draft policies,” Thompson said to the planning and development committee. “But we haven't had that phase two of the study, we haven't been asked for our input. There hasn't been any conversation, it really has been skipped altogether. That's really where our frustration has come from.”
“It's not a good use of our energy to work backwards from policies that have been put out there prematurely, to try and massage them and work them around into something that is going to be a good policy regime for Caledon.”
The draft policies have been brought forward by hired consultant Mark Dorfman, who has previously worked with the Town in its fight against the Rockfort Quarry in the early 2000s. Dorfman is a Registered Professional Planner and Municipal Planning Consultant, hired because the Town itself does not retain much inside planning expertise — former chief planner Antonietta Minichillo admitted to residents early last year that the Town was struggling from a human resource perspective. But the hiring process to bring Dorfman onboard was done without any public notice, raising concerns about an aggregate policy update process that has been less than transparent.
“We have a lot of expertise in the field,” David Donnelley, an environmental lawyer working with the FCPG said at a previous community meeting. “Maybe Mark Dorfman is the right person for the studies, but maybe he isn’t.”
This is not the first time concerns about transparency have been voiced. In early 2023 residents discovered the application for the mega quarry had been submitted and deemed complete without the knowledge of council or the community. Residents also expressed frustration when James Dick Construction Limited, another aggregate operator in Caledon, was part of the process to update the mapping of potential mineral aggregate deposits. There have also been numerous debates over the length of time the review is taking and why update have not been provided to the community. The initial interim control bylaw to pause applications while new aggregate policies are developed, expired in October (with little work done) and had to be extended for an additional year. Staff said they did not anticipate the whole year would be needed, but there is only nine months left and the majority of the work still has to be done. And now the working group is threatening to stop meeting because the work staff has managed to do is not following the terms of reference that Council approved.
Donnelly previously noted that in order to complete the review process properly, it takes time, and the Town really needs to prioritize the aggregate work to come out the other side with effective policies to control the industry.
Residents at last week’s meeting expressed their frustration, echoing Sylvester’s concern over the “leadership vacuum”.
Groves addressed the concerns in an email response to The Pointer. “Planning staff takes the process very seriously and has been working with the Community Working Group to discuss their concerns with the study process throughout the process to date,” she wrote. “We have implemented changes to the meeting agendas, and bringing in a project manager, as two examples of changes we have made in response to input from the Working Group.”
The other two council members who represent the area that would be impacted by the proposed mega quarry, Ward 1 Councillor Kiernan and Regional Councillor Christina Early, have been mostly unresponsive to inquiries from The Pointer.
The blasting quarry, if built, will have significant impacts on the surrounding land and water systems.
(Alexis Wright/The Pointer)
The lack of urgency by the municipality to bring forward strong rules for the aggregate industry is alarming for residents fighting the proposed CBM mega quarry.
CBM Aggregates, a subsidiary of the aggregate giant Votorantim Cimentos, announced in November it is appealing council’s decision to extend the ICBL until October 2024.
“The extension of the ICBL is an attempt to obstruct the province’s capacity to build more sustainable homes and infrastructure to meet the needs of a growing population, including in the Town of Caledon,” David Hanratty, director of land, resource and environment at Votorantim Cimentos North America, told The Pointer in November. “It is for these reasons that CBM is appealing the extension of ICBL.”
Town staff told council in October when the decision to extend the ICBL was made, that they were confident the decision would hold up in an appeal.
But the claims from staff appear contradictory to the success rate of applicants at the Ontario Land Tribunal. An investigation undertaken by the Hamilton Spectator of all decisions made by the OLT between January and mid-August 2022, found that developers and other private companies were successful 97 percent of the time, with municipalities or a public entity winning just 6 out of the 178 cases. The provincial decision making body, which handles land use disputes, has been influenced by changes made to development legislation under the Doug Ford government.
According to the OLT, the pre-merit hearing for the case against Caledon’s ICBL extension is set for March 11, giving the Town a few more weeks to prove it is doing the necessary work to update its aggregate policies.
“The aggregate industry in Ontario, at least the extraction industry, is out of control,” Sylvester said. “I'm going to suggest that is one more compelling reason why Caledon and every municipality in the province for that matter, should do whatever they can to enhance their own aggregate policies because the province does not have our back.”
Misgivings about how the industry operates in the province were highlighted by Ontario’s Auditor General in a report released last month which showed aggregate operators and industry players face little accountability by the Ministry of Natural Resources and Forestry which often ignores the Aggregate Resource Act meant to keep the industry in check. The lack of oversight has resulted in countless violations of the Act including extraction limits being ignored, ineffective tracking and reporting of the amount of resources available and increasing conflict with municipalities and local communities.
“Sadly, the people of Ontario simply can't rely on our ministries to protect their interest, to protect them from health and safety risks created by the process,” Sylvester said, emphasizing that the municipality must take concrete action to protect its resources and support the needs and wants of the community.
“Your constituents have spoken clearly. And we trust you will act accordingly.”
Council voted unanimously to forward the letter from the working group with the attached appendix to the CAO, with a staff response expected by a yet to be determined date.
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