THE FOLLOWING LETTER WAS SENT TO CHAIRMAN KLINCK BACK IN FEBRUARY OF THIS YEAR. IT IS LONG AND THE SUBJECT MATTER IS A DIFFICULT – FOR SOME A DISTURBING SLOG. IT IS A DISCUSSION ABOUT THE POTENTIAL AND REAL DESTRUCTION OF APPROXIMATELY 10,000 ACRES IN MUSKOKA. POLITICAL RESPONSE TO DATE HAS BEEN WEAK TO NON-EXISTENT.
February 16, 2011
Mr. John Klinck, Chairman, District Municipality of Muskoka
Dear Mr. Klinck:
As a long-term resident of Muskoka I have long advocated responsible stewardship of our fragile and beautiful eco-system. It goes without saying that every aspect of our local environment has an influence on the next. Proper land use management ties directly into the preservation of our precious and perhaps most valuable resources – our lakes and rivers.
I am requesting that this letter / report be placed into the District of Muskoka’s minutes under “correspondence.” It is my sincere hope that eventually the issue of aggregate mining in Muskoka will become an agenda item with both the Engineering and Public Works Committee and the Planning and Economic Development Committee. I can think of few “Muskoka” issues that require more consideration.
Frankly, the problems related to aggregate mining in Muskoka require greater expertise than I can ever provide. However, I have offered “suggestions” as it would be presumptuous of the undersigned to make specific recommendations. It is my hope that my “suggestions” will provide a base for those with political power and those with expertise to work from. In fact, I fully expect those with expertise to point to some imperfections in this document. Therefore, I would ask that this document not be viewed from a narrow, technical perspective but rather as a starting point for a meaningful discussion which, in turn, would be followed by aggressive and positive political action.
I would be remiss if I did not thank Ian Turnbull, former Commissioner of Community Services and member of the Muskoka Watershed Council (MWC). When I approached him with my concerns he encouraged me to put my thoughts in writing and forward them to the MWC. I will certainly copy that organization but history shows that recommendations from the MWC, (no matter how blunt, strong and well thought out) to District council are not always followed.
The October, 2005 Muskoka Watershed Council’s position paper on aggregate resources demonstrates clearly that thoughtful suggestions and recommendations do not necessarily lead to solutions or constructive action. This is a political failure and is not a negative reflection on the tireless, volunteer work of the Muskoka Watershed Council (MWC). However, it is the obvious responsibility of the councillors who are members of the MWC to carry the messages back to their councils and argue forcefully that action replace words.
Many are hoping the District of Muskoka’s newly-elected council may be more intent on protecting Muskoka’s fragile environment than previous councils. In fact, when you were trying (successfully) to win 12 of 22 ballots on December 13th 2010 you spoke about the need for more organizations such as the MWC. However, there is as previously noted, a quantum leap from a report to political action.
The MWC has what can only be described as a lofty, indeed laudable, goal. It is “to sustain and enhance the air, water, and terrestrial ecosystems of the watersheds of Muskoka for the environmental, health, economic, spiritual and intrinsic values they provide.” It therefore goes without saying that any major enterprise that has a negative impact on air, water, and terrestrial ecosystems requires careful scrutiny and a proactive response. Surely, aggregate extraction in Muskoka meets these criteria. One of the key messages of the MWC is that “the environment is the economy, the economy is the environment. The MWC identified its primary concerns related to aggregate mining. They are:
- · Protection of large undisturbed natural areas
- · Habitat fragmentation
- · Water quality of lakes and inflowing creeks and streams
- · Protection of ground water quality and quantity
- · Protection of surface water flow regime
And the province of Ontario has also set, but not necessarily reached, a very high bar regarding the environment we all share. Ontario’s Environmental Bill of Rights (EBR) states that “The residents of Ontario have the right to participate in the making of environmentally significant decision by government and to hold the government accountable for those decisions. While the government has the primary responsibility for the protection of the environment, the people should have means to ensure that it is achieved in an effective, timely, open and fair manner.”
The scope and size of the aggregate industry in Muskoka makes it one of, if not the most significant threats to Muskoka’s environmental well-being. Every threat to the environment has some potential to kill, in part, the goose that lays Muskoka’s golden economic egg. Aggregate pits and quarries can and do have the potential to cause adverse effects and negative impacts on the natural environment, the environment, properties and the health, safety, quality of life and well-being of citizens. Across the province water resources can and have been irrevocably degraded; wetlands, woodlands, vegetation and fish and wildlife species can and have been destroyed or degraded; citizens have been exposed to harmful contaminates such as loud noises, vibration, airborne particulate matter (eg: silica, mica) and toxic diesel emissions from equipment and vehicles, and; neighbourhoods and communities can and have been adversely affected and negatively impacted by truck traffic, accidents, noise and poor air quality.
It is difficult to get a clear picture of aggregate extraction in Muskoka – a point made in MWC’s 2005 position paper. An easily accessible, municipal, detailed data base does not appear to be readily available. One small insight comes from the Muskoka Official Plan Review (Official Plan Amendment No. 13- Resource Policy Review) that estimates approximately 1558 hectares of land in Muskoka were assessed for extraction activity, and that the two largest producers in Muskoka extract approximately one million tonnes annually.
But those figures may be either outdated or understated. Statistics published by Gravel Watch Ontario (GWO) show that 4,069 ha of land within Muskoka are designated for aggregate (pit and quarry) operations. Approximately 2,000 ha of those are located in the area municipalities of Bracebridge and Huntsville. According to GWO the maximum annual (potential) tonnage from Muskoka’s aggregate mines is 64,211,700 tonnes putting Muskoka as the ninth largest (potential) producer compared to all other upper tier municipalities in Ontario. Of that total, 4,642,650 tonnes are designated as “underwater operations.” The fact that statistics obtained from GWO and the previously noted OP review differ significantly simply points to the need for a more precise, understandable inventory as recommended in MWC’s 2005 position paper. It should also be noted that the statistics put forward do not take into consideration unlicensed pits and quarries or those that have been abandoned without any rehabilitation.
To better put Ontario’s aggregate mining industry into perspective there are approximately 162,000 hectares in Ontario designated for licensed (ARA) aggregate extraction. The maximum annual production for all these sites is approximately 2.25 billion tonnes.
When pits or quarries are created the net result is – to put it simply – a crater in the ground. Trees and shrubs have been removed and topsoil pushed aside or removed entirely from the site. GWO claims the stated intent of the ARA to enforce rehabilitation has not been met. However, S.48(1) of the ARA states that, ”every licensee and every permittee shall perform progressive rehabilitation and final rehabilitation in accordance with this Act…..”
GWO argues that, “the definitive statistics for Ontario (yearly Mineral Aggregates in Ontario Statistical Updates) indicates that over the last ten years, 1992-2001, over half of land disturbed in Ontario’s licensed pits and quarries has not been rehabilitated. The statistics indicate that during the decade 1992-2001, there were 5,948 hectares in pits and quarries that were disturbed (plant life removed, soil removed, overburden removed etc.) but not rehabilitated. (A hectare is roughly two acres, and is roughly the size of two football fields.) This constitutes unrepaired environmental damage during that decade to an area roughly equal to 10,000 football fields. The obvious projection of these statistics is that each decade in the future about 6,000 more hectares will be disturbed and not rehabilitated. This is a clear violation of the intent of the law (ARA Purposes and ARA Section 48). It constitutes clear, continuing and extensive damage to the environment.”
It’s a disturbing trend. Sadly, there appears to be no evidence that active, progressive or final rehabilitation of pits and quarries in Muskoka is regularly accomplished. In fact, there appears to be little evidence that any rehabilitation of pits and quarries has occurred in Muskoka. Of course, having a statistical base to work from would eliminate speculation.
The lack of action and an absence of enforcement in Muskoka is the unfortunate norm. For example, in early 1984 the Town of Bracebridge passed a by-law whereby every operator of a pit or quarry shall “store within the boundaries of the property all top soil removed from the surface of the land from which the pit or quarry is made and shall use such top soil for the rehabilitation of the pit or quarry.” One must ask when and how often this actually occurred. The bylaw also specifies the mandatory grading of the sides of pits and replacement of soil on the excavated areas to allow for healthy, soil-binding re-growth. Again, one must ask how often (if ever) this has occurred and was there ever even an attempt at enforcement?
There are approximately 6,500 abandoned pits and quarries that dot the Ontario landscape and in Muskoka one does not have to travel far to find an old gravel pit. These wounds on the landscape support few, if any, shrubs or trees. Many of these pits are crisscrossed with erosion scars. Often the outer rims and sides of these excavated areas are a true safety hazard as many are both steep and concave with overhanging edges where trees and bushes cling to life.
Adding to this environmental nightmare is the fact that many older gravel pits in Muskoka were used as municipal and private garbage pits. One can only imagine the type of lethal cocktail they produce and leach into Muskoka’s precious groundwater. Obviously a pro-active approach to these environmental “time-bombs” is required, and the starting point is a concise and accurate inventory and a plan for proper site rehabilitation.
One barrier to adequate rehabilitation of pits and quarries is the large number of old licences that were grand parented when the ARA was enacted, effectively shielding them from rehabilitation requirements, and forcing ministry staff to use time-consuming site plan amendments on a case-by-case basis. These site plan amendments can be stalled by appeals to the Ontario Municipal Board.
In theory the Ministry of Natural Resources (MNR) is responsible for overseeing Ontario’s licensed pits and quarries. But there is only one inspector for all of Muskoka and that individual is also responsible for overseeing areas outside of Muskoka.
In 2006 the Environmental Commissioner of Ontario (ECO) commented on sand and gravel policy in Ontario. The ECO pointed to lack of enforcement, a lack on conservation and long-term planning, and a poor record of rehabilitating aggregate sites as key areas needing to be addressed. Further, MNR was found to be lacking the capacity to carry out its responsibilities.
And an old adage is very much in play when it comes to pits and quarries in Muskoka – out of sight and out of mind. Many of these sites are located behind barriers – heavy undergrowth or man-made hills. The routes into these sites are often dotted with “no trespassing” signs. The net result is that very few people – with the obvious exception of the operators and the Ministry of Natural Resources (MNR) – actually witness how much destruction of Muskoka’s fragile ecosystem has taken place.
Demand for Muskoka’s Crushed Stone
The Province of Ontario has issued a strong policy direction for long-term protection of aggregate resources. Its policy statement requires the conservation of mineral aggregate resources wherever feasible. Further, it requires that aggregate resources be protected from incompatible development and activities that would preclude or hinder the development of new aggregate operations or the expansion of existing operations. With this in mind recognition must be given to the fact that the Province is an important stakeholder in that it consumes over 50 per cent of the aggregates used in Ontario. Nevertheless, the Province still has significant responsibility in ensuring that the aggregate industry appropriately protects the environment, obeys the laws of the Province, and carries out rehabilitation. The next provincial election could well provide ample opportunity for this discussion.
There has been a greater demand for high quality, 100 per cent crush stone for roads throughout Ontario including the Greater Toronto Area (GTA.) Changes in pavement design requirements and construction material specification stipulate the use of durable, cubical, angular 100 per cent crushed stone, particularly for highways, freeways and transportation infrastructure. Obviously, Muskoka has an abundance of granite and whether the quality of this plentiful resource meets the specifications for construction, cement and roads etc. is, again, a subject for additional and precise study. The obvious question is whether or not Muskoka will become or is planned to become a major crushed stone provider for the GTA. If this scenario is part of Muskoka’s near future then a careful evaluation of the ramifications is definitely required.
Crushed stone it is currently being shipped south and out of Muskoka and as the demand increases it is reasonable to expect an increase in “exported” crushed stone from cottage country. Crushed stone production in Muskoka is not just destined for a local market. But it is often argued that aggregates are needed locally and this line of reasoning is used to justify increases in aggregate production in Muskoka. What is not known is the percentage of “exported” product (both crushed stone and gravel) relative to consumption within Muskoka. The absence of accurate data and reasonable projections makes long-term planning and preparation by Muskoka’s municipal governments next to impossible.
Fees / Revenues
Through a complex system fees (six cents per tonne) is collected from licensees and permittees. In a labyrinthine arrangement the Aggregate Producer’s Association of Ontario (APAO), described by GWO as a “lobbying organization,” owns yet another organization known as The Ontario Aggregate Resources Corporation (TOARC). TORAC is entrusted by the Ontario government to collect haulage fees and distribute Ontario Provincial funds. There is no external audit of this collection of fees. TORAC was created in 1997 by APAO and is wholly owned by APAO. APAO is the trade organization for the Ontario aggregate industry. APAO provides only a limited amount of information to the public.
Despite the apparent weakness of the current system the “six cents per tonne” does appear, at least in part, to find its way down to both the upper and lower municipal governments in Muskoka. For example, in 2009, the Town of Bracebridge received $40,800.02 in revenue from TOARC and the District received $33,426.00 for the same period. The District put the money towards its roads budget and the Town of Bracebridge applied their funds to the Public Works Department – miscellaneous revenue account.
Muskoka Watershed Council – Aggregate Resources Position Paper – 2005
In its October, 2005 aggregate resources position paper the MWC stated “that a comprehensive strategic plan for aggregate extraction, coupled with sound planning policies and a detailed database, are critical to providing a balanced approach to the regulation of aggregate operations throughout the watershed.”
The report went on to say its analysis of local planning policies “suggests that these are also incomplete in terms of providing the protection, control and direction necessary to balance aggregate extraction with competing land uses and social interest.”
The MWC recommended “that the province and municipalities within the watersheds of Muskoka develop a coordinated, comprehensive strategic vision for aggregate resources and extractive operations that is compatible with other social, economic, land use and environmental interests while being mindful of provincial legislation, regulation, direction and priorities.”
There are some very specific recommendations within the report that spoke to the necessity of updating Muskoka’s municipal plans and by-laws related to pits and quarries. The importance of having well-crafted official plans speaks to a proactive approach by municipal governments.
This MWC’s 2005 report preceded the Province’s 2007 move to include Muskoka under the umbrella of the Aggregate Resources Act (ARA). The MWC has not updated its report to address this 2007 development.
Caledon, Muskoka Comparison
A recent event shows just how important municipal plans and by-laws can be. In November of 2010 the Ontario Municipal Board (OMB) squashed plans for a massive open-pit stone quarry in Caledon, Ontario proposed by James Dick Construction. Local ratepayers, under the banner of the Coalition of Concerned Citizens (Caledon) fought for 13 years against the proposal and raised more than a million dollars to argue their cause.
The most significant aspect of their victory comes from the fact that both the Region of Peel and the Town of Caledon had in place strong official plans and by-laws before the proposal came to light. The Region of Peel and the Town of Caledon both made presentations to the OMB. Those presentations were consistent, coordinated and, most importantly, backed and supported by their respective councils. In its final report the OMB stated that the proposed quarry would have a “catastrophic impact on the natural environment or natural features and functions of the area.”
During the last term of District government in Muskoka there was a contentious, failed attempt to pass a tree by-law. A number of District politicians supported the concept publicly stating that saving Muskoka’s trees was the environmentally correct thing to do. However, few, if any of those “green” politicians have been heard voicing concern about the thousands of hectares of land in Muskoka laid waste by aggregate extraction.
In fact, there is a general perception held by many that Muskoka’s municipal politicians bend over backwards to encourage the local aggregate industry and turn a blind eye to the environmental devastation that has resulted. Often, the excuse is that control over pits and quarries is a provincial responsibility under the ARA. They infer that both the lower and upper tier municipal governments of Muskoka are powerless to control or regulate aggregate mining. This is not entirely true as demonstrated in Caledon.
The 2005 MWC’s report called for a “comprehensive, strategic vision” related to aggregate extraction as it’s related to other interests. This has not happened, yet the OMB decision to stop a proposed, massive quarry in Caledon was, in part, the result of a “comprehensive, strategic vision.”
Muskoka’s Municipal Government Role Under the ARA
In 1968 there was a Muskoka District local government review (Paterson Report.) Paterson recommended three essential requirements for comprehensive and effective planning in Muskoka. They were, (1) must deal with Muskoka as a whole, (2) must be based on intimate knowledge and understanding of conditions in Muskoka, and (3) must have District-wide authority to assure effective implementation. He is quoted as stating, “…the conservation of Muskoka’s natural assets may well prove to be the most important and most difficult tasks that the District will have to face in the future…an effective conservation program should be a basic objective of long-term planning for the area…”
In June, 2004 District councillors were updated on the possible implementation of the ARA. Again in late 2006 the District of Muskoka’s Planning and Economic Development Department updated District Council regarding the impending implementation of the ARA. The report stated that “as of January 1st, 2007, the ARA will supersede municipal pits and quarries by-laws in Muskoka, rendering them redundant.”
Perhaps these soothing words of the 2006 report put District councillors off guard or left them with the distinct impression that the Province had lifted the burden of responsibility from their shoulders. Nothing could be further from the truth.
More recently a District list of current and emerging issues for Official Plan Review was created. It is somewhat disconcerting to note that the subject of aggregate mining, extraction and aggregate mining land use is not included on that list. To put in the bluntest of terms, the potential, absolute destruction of approximately 10,000 (licensed) acres of land in Muskoka is being ignored.
But the District’s report of November 2006 points to some small windows of opportunity for active political and public participation. To begin with, irrespective of designation under the ARA, municipalities remain responsible for all land use planning considerations for aggregate extraction. Landowners wishing to develop new pits and quarries on private lands must have zoning approval in order to obtain the necessary permission under the ARA. Expansion of a pit or quarry outside its existing boundaries is designated as a new application.
Under the ARA all aggregate mining operations must keep detailed records of sales and shipment of aggregate material that is removed from the site in any calendar years. However, there is no access to this data by the public or the municipality as it is considered to be “third party” information. Other inaccessible information includes (but not limited to) the amount spent on rehabilitation, annual licence fee, royalty fee(s), rehabilitation area and the area(s) requiring rehabilitation.
Applicants for new pits and quarries must provide written notice to both the lower and upper tier municipal governments. Unfortunately, only local residents within 120 metres of a proposed site are, by law, informed directly. However, there appears to be nothing to stop municipal government from increasing the radius of information sharing.
Local municipal governments are also notified if application is received from an operator to change their licensing agreement and municipal governments are free to offer comments as to the appropriateness of the new, requested conditions.
The MNR is obligated to review and consider these comments. Unfortunately, this is hardly what could be described as a “public” process despite direct involvement with municipal government. For instance, if operator X applied to shift its mining operation from “above water table” to “below water table” the municipal governments may not consider all the implications. However, John Doe, with a private well in the immediate vicinity, could easily have his source of potable water diminished or contaminated by “below the water table” aggregate mining or blasting. Similarly, increased production or a proposed change in shipping routes could have a significant effect on local residents.
There is, therefore, a role for municipal government to actively engage the public in the process. In this age of the internet information sharing is both inexpensive and can be almost immediate. In fact, there is no reason why the District of Muskoka cannot create an internet site of all the licensed aggregate mining operations in Muskoka and post the information it receives. The upper tier and lower tier municipal governments receive copies of licenses and licence conditions for every licensed pit or quarry within their jurisdiction. This, in itself, provides valuable insight for the public into these somewhat secretive operations. For example, an operating licence specifies the prescribed conditions under which these licensed mining operations are allowed to operate and any other conditions that may be necessary to provide controls on a licensed site. Information of this sort could and should be shared with the public. Pit and quarry operators must submit an annual compliance reports to the clerk of each municipality in which the site is located. This includes the upper tier municipality. Obviously, these reports should also be made available to the public.
Direct municipal participation in regulating aggregate mining is not possible. The MNR’s “guiding principal” states, “The intent of the legislation (ARA) is to establish MNR as the lead regulatory agency, with respect to aggregate operations in designated area (Muskoka is designated) in order to ensure that aggregate operations provincially are regulated in a consistent and fair manner. While the Act provides many opportunities for municipalities to participate in this process (e.g. comments on new applications and amendments), it attempts to avoid the possibility of conflicting or inconsistent regulation of the industry.” This position is maintained despite the fact proper regulation of the industry in keeping with the terms and conditions of the ARA is often absent or insufficient.
But there is a big difference between regulating and monitoring. It would appear that the door is wide open for municipal involvement – particularly given the MNR’s dismal record of enforcement. The problem in Muskoka is that seven (one upper-tier and six lower-tier) municipal governments do not mirror each other with respect to their approach to aggregate mining. Obviously a single, unwavering, cohesive approach is required.
In theory the District’s official plan sets the stage for lower tier municipal official plans. The stated objective of a District plan is to set out goals and objectives for matters which transcend municipal boundaries. In fact, section 27(1) of the Planning Act states, “The council of a lower-tier municipality shall amend every official plan and every by-law passed under Section 34, or a predecessor of it, to conform with a plan that comes into effect as the official plan of the upper-tier municipality.” Municipal enforcement of the rehabilitation of licensed pits and quarries, for example, is outside municipal jurisdiction. However, municipalities are free to bring forward to the MNR concerns and issues related to the operation of licensed pits and quarries
Existing lower-tier municipal by-laws with respect to aggregate mining are of little or no use given the province’s insistence on being the “lead regulatory agency.” At the same time lower-tier municipalities in Muskoka have jurisdiction over zoning, and as such, do have considerable influence with reference to proposals for new or expanded aggregate mining operations. And the Caledon experience shows the importance of both levels of municipal government not only taking a proactive stance but also a co-ordinated approach to protect and preserve the natural environment.
Given the limited effectiveness of MNR enforcement of the ARA, municipal politicians within Muskoka must be aware of and take more responsibility for aggregate operations in their jurisdictions. In 2005 MWC recommended “that a comprehensive strategic plan for aggregate extraction, coupled with sound planning policies and a detailed database, are critical to providing a balanced approach to the regulation of aggregate operations throughout the watershed.”
The District Municipality of Muskoka has been the lead municipality in assuming responsibility for the majority of major issues related to the environment. There is a single, district-wide approach to the supply of potable water, the treatment of raw sewage and disposal and collection of solid waste. From an environmental perspective it would make perfect sense for Muskoka’s upper-tier municipal government to assume the lead with respect to aggregate mining.
Monitoring, as previously discussed, could be undertaken at the District level. This could take a variety of forms. Publishing (via internet) of all information it receives with respect to aggregate mining would give the public an opportunity to both learn and comment. Industry requests for changes to their operating licences would be subject to public scrutiny.
As previously mentioned there are many old gravel pits that were utilized as garbage dumps. A full analysis and a proactive approach to clean up must be undertaken. To guarantee a coordinated approach to this pressing problem it would appear that this should also become a District function.
The abandoned pits and quarries that dot Muskoka’s countryside must also be rehabilitated. Obviously, the first order of business would be to quantify and categorize these defunct operations. A variety of approaches could be considered. For example, if private landowners refuse to meet a reasonable “property standard” through rehabilitation then the municipal government(s) could proceed with cleanup and apply the cost to the owner’s property tax.
Lastly, there are numerous aggregate mining operations in Muskoka located in close proximity to streams and rivers which eventually lead to the major water bodies of Muskoka. They require regular and careful monitoring to assure Muskoka’s residents that contaminated runoff from these mines is minimized or eliminated. This can be done without any specific by-laws as these rivers and streams are not entirely on aggregate operator’s property. Of course, any reports should be made public.
Watching the “watch dog”
The most important function the District of Muskoka could perform would be that of “watching the watchdog.” The MNR’s approach and record related to ARA enforcement is obviously weak and the only way to improve that record is to closely monitor all aggregate mining operations. But simply having a system whereby paperwork is received and then reviewed does not get to the heart of the problem. But consider: Municipal governments have long had the right to enter private property to inspect buildings (subject to senior government standards), inspect septic systems, enforce property standards, regulate outdoor fires etc. etc. The how it is done must be left to those with legal expertise, but it would be impossible to properly “watch the watchdog” without legal, municipal access to the thousands of acres in Muskoka under threat from aggregate mining operations. Reports would go to District council and council, in turn, could decide whether to formally approach the MNR where problems are uncovered. Some, if not all of this approach, may precipitate a jurisdictional fight between the MNR and the District of Muskoka. However, it must be clearly understood there is a significant difference between regulating and observing. The MNR’s policy states, “Where there is a conflict between the ARA and an official plan and/or by-law, MNR should advise the municipality that the particular by-law/official plan is already being regulated by the ARA and section 66 would make the by-law/official plan inoperative.” Of course one must ask if pits and quarries are properly regulated and whether diligent review of MNR’s “territory” would be consistent with Ontario’s Environmental Bill of Rights (EBR). That bill states “The residents of Ontario have the right to participate in the making of environmentally significant decision by government and to hold the government accountable for those decisions.”
Clearly, the present system of dissimilar official plans, outdated by-laws and limited funds pertaining to aggregate resources requires consolidation to successfully protect Muskoka’s fragile ecosystem. As such, it would only be logical if the majority of issues directly related to aggregate mining in Muskoka become an upper tier responsibility. These responsibilities would include, but not limited to:
Monitoring all licensed aggregate mining sites in Muskoka and distributing of information to the public pertaining to licence conditions and restrictions, plans for expansion, proposed transportation route changes etc.
A system of “watching the watchdog” is required as the MNR has not taken full responsibility or made the effort necessary to make pit and quarry rehabilitation the norm and not the exception. Pit and quarry compliance reports are shared with the Municipality but only “on site” inspections, measurements and observations can determine whether there has been compliance.
Locating, monitoring and rehabilitating old pits and quarries that were previously used as municipal or private garbage dumps.
Locating all abandoned gravel pits and quarries in Muskoka with recommendations and timeframes for rehabilitation.
Review from the perspective of safety and suitability all transportation routes currently used for transporting aggregates.
Determine what percentage of aggregate material is “exported” from Muskoka.
Determine whether Muskoka crushed granite meets the specifications of the road-building industry.
Carefully monitor water quality of streams and rivers in close proximity to all aggregate extraction facilities.
The District must develop and put in place a “bullet proof” District Official Plan and that specifically addresses all environmental considerations related to aggregate mining. GWO provides thoughtful guidelines for this exercise.
District council should ask the MWC to update its Aggregate Resources Position Paper of October, 2005 to reflect Muskoka’s inclusion under the Aggregate Resources Act.
The MWC should be encouraged by District council to give serious consideration to forming a link or perhaps become a member of an organization such as Gravel Watch Ontario. Some of these organizations have created an enormous data base of valuable information that could be utilized by the MWC and by Muskoka’s municipal government(s).
District Councillors should approach an organization such as GWO to address the relative committees with significant time set aside for a Q and A session.
The District Municipality of Muskoka should petition the Province to create a truly transparent methodology for the distribution and collection of aggregate tonnage fees.
The District should petition the Province asking that TOARC be prohibited from participating in any activities that may have the appearance of lobbying or political interference.
The District Municipality of Muskoka should petition the Province asking that MNR improve the rehabilitation rates of Ontario pits and quarries by introducing stronger legislation with targets and timelines; by applying up-to-date rules to grand parented licences, and by further strengthening the ministry’s own field capacity for inspections.
As with every municipal undertaking there is an associated cost. To effectively run a District program such as “watch the watch dog” as I suggested will cost money. To quantify and tabulate and distribute the information as I propose will also cost money. Previously I referred to revenue received by both the upper and lower tier municipalities in Muskoka – revenue received from the aggregate industry. The Province suggests that these funds be applied to roads – roads used to haul sand and gravel. I am, therefore, suggesting that all these funds be applied to a “road to recovery”, to implementation of policies and procedures that will lead to rehabilitation of lands scarred by aggregate mining and the future protection of Muskoka’s fragile ecosystem.
Thank you Mr. Chairman for giving this letter / report your active consideration.
Robert C. Henry
C.C. MWC (Ian Turnbull), District Councillors & interested parties