Niagara Falls residents continue to push for transparency on aggregate operations
Peter Craven/Wikimedia Commons

Niagara Falls residents continue to push for transparency on aggregate operations

A month after Niagara Falls resident David Rupay delegated to council, asking the City to join a campaign ignited by the Reform Gravel Mining Coalition demanding a moratorium on new pits and quarries, more residents are raising concerns about the industry. 

They want a pause until recommendations from the Ontario Auditor General’s 2023 audit on the aggregate industry have been met, with red flags being raised over provincial and municipal mismanagement of aggregate resources and sustainability protections.

A report released by acting Auditor General Nick Stravopoulos in December found the Aggregate Resources Act is often ignored by the Ministry of Natural Resources and Forestry (MNRF) when the aggregate industry behaves questionably, evading consequences for non-compliance, while the Ministry is ill-equipped to handle the unrelenting spread of aggregate operations across Ontario. Essentially, he found that aggregate operators are running the roost and rarely held accountable for violating provincial and municipal law. 

“Our audit found that the Ministry is falling short in balancing its competing roles of facilitating the extraction of aggregate resources and minimizing the impacts of aggregate operations, particularly through its role in regulating the industry to ensure approval holders comply with all necessary requirements,” he wrote in a press release following the audit on December 6.

The audit gave 18 recommendations with 31 action items to be implemented by the MNRF to regain control over an unchecked industry. Of the recommendations, the Ministry responded in agreement with just seven — or less than 40 percent. The remainder were acknowledged without committing to improvement.

One of the major concerns for local citizens is the lack of transparent information on aggregate supply and demand across the province. It is known that aggregate operations are best suited near where the aggregate will be needed as transportation is highly expensive and contributes significantly to greenhouse gas emissions. But when a new pit or quarry is proposed, there is no requirement from the industry to prove this new operation is necessary to meet Ontario’s aggregate needs. No other industry is given such a blank cheque for new operations. This “non need to show need” element of the province’s aggregate act is a main piece of the RGMC’s call for reform.

This has resulted in precious landscapes, one wooded areas of vital farland, transformed into moonscapes, with large, gaping craters left in the ground, an eyesore for the community and representative of the human idea that we own our Earth.


The presence of pits and quarries is a stark contrast to the wooded or greenfield lands they are dug out of.

(Alexis Wright/The Pointer Files)


But transparency runs far deeper than the need for aggregate. The stronghold over operations has largely left municipalities at the mercy of new pit and quarry applications. While municipalities have the authority to deny a request for a zoning bylaw and official plan amendment that would allow purchased lands to be redesignated for extraction, these decisions are appealable to the Ontario Land Tribunal, with industry players having the upper hand in nearly every case due to the no need to show need elements of the Act.

An investigation undertaken by the Hamilton Spectator analyzed all rulings made by the OLT between January and mid-August of 2022. Of the 178 decisions, 172 were in favour of the applicant trying to push a project, with the municipality or public entity winning just six times. 

The 97 percent success rate of developers and other private companies at the OLT comes after changes made by the Doug Ford PC government to various pieces of legislation that eroded the control of municipalities, conservation authorities and the public over local planning decisions, while heavily favouring the private sector — a notion that was also highlighted through the AG’s findings.

Faced with the looming influence of the powerful industry, residents of Niagara Falls have grave concerns over a specific application submitted by Walker Aggregates for a new pit just outside the Fernwood neighbourhood on the city’s west end. 

In 2021, the company submitted its application to the City of Niagara Falls and the Niagara Region for an Official Plan Amendment (both regional and city) and a Zoning Bylaw Amendment. In addition, the company must submit an application to the Ministry of Natural Resources and Forestry (MNRF) for an Aggregate License to extract below the water table. Neither the Region nor the City have yet to make a decision on the application as they continue to analyze the prerequisite studies and assessments submitted by the operator. 


The proposed quarry is northwest of the Fernwood neighbourhood in Niagara Falls.

(Google Maps/Rachel Morgan)


The location's proximity to the Fernwood neighbourhood with the proposed pit location just 80 metres from the nearest household and 280 metres from the neighbourhood is sparking concern about air and water quality as well as truck traffic through the neighbourhood. But residents are also worried about the impacts to the natural environment and the larger watershed. There is a creek that runs through the Fernwood neighbourhood converging with other waterways outside city limits. This creek also runs directly through Walker Aggregates’ properties. 

Sean Norman, senior planner at Niagara Region, told council and the community that Walker Aggregates plans to move the watercourse, a decision that would involve the Niagara Peninsula Conservation Authority and final approval by Fisheries and Oceans Canada. Watercourse alteration has the potential to cause complications for species living in any around the stream as well as changes in sedimentation and flow which can impact water volume and velocity. Numerous studies have shown that the results of shifting these natural watercourses are often unpredictable. 

It is under these circumstances that Rupay delegated to Council in February, asking the City to join the Demand A Moratorium Now! (DAMN!) Campaign. The campaign was launched by the RGMC in January 2022 to pause the approval of licenses for new pits and quarries until a third party study could be completed to determine the best path forward for aggregate in the province.

With only one councillor on board to support the request, the City has yet to take definitive action. Instead, council unanimously passed a motion referring the delegation back to staff to obtain advice on the matter. The CAO noted that legal advice might be needed as joining such a campaign while there is an active application at the City, could provide ammunition for an appeal at the OLT.

“That motion, I think, would certainly provide some ammo for the applicant’s lawyers to assert that council was predetermined on this one,” he said.

But residents did not relent.

On March 5, the City held a special Council meeting to discuss the City’s progress on updating its Official Plan. Helene Cayer, another resident active in the fight against new aggregate operations in Niagara Falls, submitted correspondence to the City asking for consideration of an Interim Control Bylaw (ICBL) on new aggregate operations within the City’s borders. The provision is one that is used to pause specific kinds of development while the municipality works to update the policies that guide operations in its Official Plan.

“[The] information on a requested ICBL was received from a resident at the March 5th public meeting and Council made a motion to receive that information and that it be considered in the preparation of the new Official Plan,” Bill Matson, City Clerk for Niagara Falls clarified for The Pointer in an email statement.

A report on the potential for a moratorium on aggregate operations came to City Council Tuesday (March 19th) in closed session. According to the agenda, the matters were to be dealt with in camera under section 239 (2) (f) of the Municipal Act to receive legal advice on a possible moratorium on aggregate operations.

Since the matter was being dealt with in a closed session, the City could not entertain delegations for residents or other stakeholders, something that has left residents feeling ignored by the officials they elected to represent them.

The decision to hold the session in camera has caused skepticism for Cayer and other residents who feel the matter is of particular interest to the public and should be discussed in open session.

In fact, a ruling from 2005 against the Corporation of the City of London, set precedent for discussions around potential ICBLs to be held publicly. 

The City of London debated the adoption of an ICBL relating to lands owned by a particular developer in a meeting that was closed to the public, justified by the City that litigation would follow from its decision to adopt the ICBL over the land.

The Ontario Court of Appeal rejected this reasoning and found the City had improperly relied on the litigation exception to close the meeting. The court ruled that the true subject matter of the meeting was the interim control by-law, not litigation, therefore it did not qualify for the closed meeting exemption under the Municipal Act. 

Coming out of closed session on Tuesday, Niagara Falls council passed a motion of a “non decision” on the matters of a moratorium on aggregate mining or an ICBL.

“Supporting a moratorium or issuing an interim control by-law at this stage means that Council would effectively issue a decision denying the quarry application in advance of the process under the Planning Act that the City must follow and that is designed to evaluate these applications based on their merits. This could expose the City of Niagara Falls to a costly appeal process,” Jason Burgess, CAO for the City of Niagara Falls wrote in a press release following the meeting.

But for Cayer and Rupay, a non-decision meant their asks were going unanswered.

“My request doesn't stop the planning process from proceeding. Stopping city planning staff from fulfilling their responsibilities is not the intent; I am simply requesting a one-year freeze on any political decision related to new license approvals,” Rupay wrote to The Pointer in an email statement following the meeting. “This timeout allows the aggregate industry to address the Auditor General’s recommendations, particularly as they relate to data-gathering techniques. Without unbiased, up-to-date, publicly available information, the public and our elected officials, cannot make informed decisions as to the need for a new quarry in Niagara.”


Fernwood resident, David Rupay, delegated to council supporting a request for a moratorium on new pits and quarries.



The City also reiterated that it will be holding a public meeting on the proposed Walker Aggregates Upper’s quarry but a date has yet to be set. This is not satisfactory for Cayer however, who stressed that the public meeting is in the context of rezoning the land from Agricultural to Industrial Extractive and not on the state of aggregate in the City itself.

“In our opinion, if higher powers such as the Auditor General and MNRF agree that revisions/updates of Policies and Procedures of the Aggregate Resources Act are required and that the MNRF presently lacks the structure and vigilance necessary to ensure conformance and protect all parties, then a pause is required on all applications as part of the process to enable a secure and reliable process to be established for all concerned,” Cayer and Rupay wrote to The Pointer following their original request in February.

Cayer continues to stress that a moratorium or an ICBL would be a temporary break, not a permanent rejection of aggregate operations within the City. While she has concerns about the proximity of the proposed Upper’s Quarry to the Fernwood neighbourhood, she is not asking Council to write off aggregate altogether, rather she wants to make sure that the City has strong policies to govern this monstrous industry.

So far, council has not shared her interest.

A similar fight regarding transparency and aggregate policies is brewing in another southern Ontario town. The Town of Caledon has been entrenched in a two year battle with aggregate giant Canadian Building Materials (CBM) over the fate of an 800-acre plot of land in the northwest hamlet of Cataract.

Pressure on the Town increased in October 2022, when, just prior to the municipal election, a local community advocacy group Forks of the Credit Preservation Group (FCPG) released a study indicating that Caledon was in dead last on a scale of aggregate policies in comparison to the remainder of the Top Ten Aggregate Producing Municipalities of Ontario. As a result, the Town implemented an ICBL and extended it for another year in the fall of 2023.

Under the ICBL, the Town committed itself to doing a Joint Aggregate Policy Review with the Region of Peel and updating the entirety of its aggregate policies under the Official Plan. Obliging to public request, the Town promised to provide monthly updates to the community at a community meeting in early 2023, but updates have seldom followed.

While residents are demanding transparency, the Town has failed to complete its review within the first year of the ICBL — the extension is currently being challenged by CBM at the OLT ignored the terms of reference for the Community Working Group it put together to gain input, and held training sessions in camera. In June 2023, Town staff presented a joint report with the Region that suggested Caledon’s aggregate policies were in fact strong, a report that was met with contempt from residents and some sitting councillors.

“A lot of time and energy really went in, because I believe strongly that there are innovative policies that we could put in place to protect residents,” Cheryl Connors, a member of Caledon’s Aggregate Resources Community Working Group who has previously expressed to The Pointer that she is fed up with the Town’s procedure, said. “To not at least have any policies in place to protect the health and safety of residents, it's so terrible.”

While Niagara Falls is not one of the municipalities included in the TAPMO study, the broader Niagara Region is home to nine gravel pits and 13 stone quarries making it a significant issue of concern for residents. With the proposed Upper’s Quarry from Walker’s Aggregates on the horizon, more and more residents believe it is time for Niagara Falls to update its aggregate policies with stricter protections. 



Email: [email protected]

Twitter: @rachelnadia_

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