November 26, 2008

Erin residents rally to fight Rockfort quarry

As published in the Erin Advocate

The proposed Rockfort Quarry may be in Caledon, but it has many Erin residents worried about potential harm to their well water and the rural environment.

They made their voices heard at a public meeting last Wednesday at the Caledon Country Club, hosted by the Coalition of Concerned Citizens (CCC), which has fought the quarry plan for almost 12 years.

Proposed by James Dick Construction Limited (JDCL), the 220-acre open-pit mine would replace farmland on the Erin-Caledon border at Winston Churchill Boulevard and Olde Baseline Road, providing dolostone for the construction of highways, bridges and buildings.

The latest in a series of environmental studies by JDCL has been reviewed by Caledon, Peel Region and the Credit Valley Conservation Authority. All three will take formal positions on the project early in 2009. On December 10, 7 pm, at the Community Complex in Caledon East, people can get more information and express their views to Caledon Council. On May 25, a hearing begins at the Ontario Municipal Board, possibly lasting six months.

“We estimate it will take $1 million to wage the fight,” said Willa Gauthier of Erin, who hosts a huge, annual fundraising garage sale at her farm. With a golf tournament and other events, about $100,000 is raised annually, she said. The CCC has launched an additional fundraising drive, to hire the best possible advice and expert witnesses for the OMB hearing.

CCC concerns include industrialization of a rural area, harm to trout fisheries and rare wildlife, damage to wetlands, reduction in the water table, contamination of waters above and below-ground that flow south into the Credit River, reduced property values, noise, dust and up to 1,000 extra trucks per day on Caledon roads.

“These threats are simply too risky, harmful and expensive to judge this as an acceptable site,” said Bob Gardner of Erin, a CCC director. He said methods proposed for mitigating water impacts are “uncertain at best”, and have never been tried on this scale.

JDCL would cut up to 100 feet into the water table. A pump system would re-infiltrate quarry water back into the ground. A “grout curtain” – a series of deep holes drilled outside the excavation, filled with impermeable material – would hold back water.

Greg Sweetnam, Vice-President of Resources at JDCL, said the technology is tested and “state-of-the-art”. He said the site would be developed gradually over 10-15 years, with stringent testing and government inspection, so that any hint of trouble could be corrected before any impact was felt.

“There is next to no risk,” he said. The site is ideal, he said, because there are relatively few homes in the area, and it is close to where the stone product is needed, reducing the cost and pollution of trucking. He said the site is not sensitive enough to have been excluded in any of the studies.

“We’re just arguing about extraction timing,” he said. JDCL promises rehabilitation that will include lakes and forest, inspired by other former quarries near Rockwood, Belfountain and Elora. “It will look like a national park in 50 years,” he said.

Caledon is already the fifth largest producer of aggregates among Ontario municipalities, with extraction of 4.7 million tonnes in 2007, according to an industry report. Rockfort could produce up to 2.5 million tonnes per year, with production totaling 39 million over 30 years.

Hydrogeologists have mapped an area in which well water could be affected if JDCL is unsuccessful in maintaining water levels – a worst-case scenario. The map shows serious impact very close to the quarry. A moderate impact zone includes Caledon lands, part of Halton Hills near Terra Cotta, and an area of Erin: west from Winston Churchill to a point between the Eighth and Ninth Lines and a short distance north of 5 Sideroad in the area of Rogers Creek.

Jana Vondrejs of Erin knew nothing of the proposal when she moved into a house across the road two years ago. JDCL says on its website that noise and vibration from drilling and blasting will be “controlled”, but she is very worried.

“If they do this, it would ruin a very special place,” she said, adding that the Town of Erin “is not supporting us as they should.” John Walker of Erin wants town council to hold a meeting to get residents’ views.

Erin Mayor Rod Finnie was not at the Caledon meeting, but later said an Erin meeting was a “possibility”, and suggested residents contact the Town in writing. Both Erin and Wellington County registered objections to the quarry with the province about 10 years ago. Erin stays informed, said the mayor, but has avoided the high costs of direct involvement. After Caledon Council votes its position, Erin Council could decide whether to support it.

Personally, I am opposed to this quarry – by instinct, and what I have heard so far. I have no expertise in environmental risks or the aggregate business, but as a taxpayer I have hired experts to evaluate the evidence, and the OMB to judge wisely for the common good. It may be a cumbersome system, but it appears to be working.