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How the Walk to Stop the Mega-Quarry put Melancthon on the Map

by Zach Ruiter

See video

 

“The Mega-Quarry has really touched a nerve up here because people know their headwaters are being challenged” argues Michael Sacco, an Indigenous Studies PhD student at Trent University. 

Sacco was one of the organizers of a five-day 125km walk in late April 2011 to stop the proposed “Mega-quarry” planned for Melancthon Township.

They were joined by upwards of three hundred people along the route.The walkers started by rallying in front of the Ontario Provincial Legislature and ended their journey at the site of the proposed quarry in Melancthon Township, Ontario.

Danny Beaton, who led the walkers, credits the media coverage and the people they meet along the route with putting the Mega-Quarry on the political agenda.

Melancthon sits on prime agricultural land at the highest point in Southern Ontario, in between Georgian Bay and Lake Ontario, and northwest of Toronto.  Less than 3% of Southern Ontario is classified as prime agricultural land. The hills of Melancthon also provide the headwaters of
eight important rivers: the Grand, Beaver, Pine, Nottawasaga, Saugeen, Noisy, Boyne, and Mad Rivers.

The Highlands Corporation proposes to quarry the limestone that filters the drinking waters of approximately ten million people in Southern Ontario. “Quarries are known to drain, burry, or cut off wetlands, headwaters, and creeks from their flow source,” according to Allie Kosela of Lake Ontario Waterkeeper. “Habitats are destroyed and fish populations cannot reproduce as their breeding grounds are polluted, eliminated, and blocked”.

Potato farmer Dave Vanderzaag explains “The water is unique up there because it feeds our headwaters.… Under our farm, the water table is only five to seven metres below the surface. We’ve got clean water, we’ve got tons of it, it’s very unique. We can irrigate out of those wells at 500 gallons a minute and the water doesn’t even move. This quarry site is about a thousand feet from my home and directly across from our wells.”

According to Highland’s 3,000-page application, there will be 3,600 truckloads in and out of the quarry per day. Adam Vanderzaag lives on his family’s potato farm across from the proposed site and he’s done the math: “It’s over 3,000 trucks a day in and out, over 6,000 trips going up Highway 24, it’s the only way out to Primrose and that’s as far as their traffic study goes... if you think about it, a truck every 12 seconds.”

“It’s just ludicrous” says Dr. Neal DenHollander, the president of the Unitarian Camp in Honeywood not far from the planed quarry.DenHollander has read through the entire Highlands application and is concerned about contamination to the ground water.

According to DenHollander, Highlands Corporation plans to use a liquid explosive called ANFO, or Ammonium Nitrate Fuel Oil, to mine the rock “by their own estimates, ANFO is 97% effective under dry conditions. Under wet conditions its efficacy will be drastically reduced, but to be generous, even at 97% the contamination adds up. With each of the 3,600 truckloads carrying 40 tonnes, this works out to 144,000 tonnes of aggregate per day. They expect to generate approximately 3,500 tonnes of aggregate per tonne of ANFO explosive. A daily 144,000 tonne haul will require more than 40 tonnes of ANFO. The unexploded 3% left over amounts to one tonne of fuel oil into the water table each day”

The Highlands Corporation application under the Aggregate Resources Act plans the 2,300 acre quarry on 10,000 acres of Highland property will create a 200+ foot deep gorge, deeper than Niagara Falls. Their own expectations are to pump out 600 million litres of fresh water a day.

It is clear that the water is at stake: NAFTA’s Chapter 11 gives American companies the right to claim the water sources they use and sue for damages if they are blocked.

The Highlands Corporation is owned by a Boston based hedge fund called Baupost.Baupost Group manages over $23 billion in assets of high-net-worth families as well as the Harvard Endowment Fund.

Hedge funds do exactly what their name implies—hedging bets, maximizing profit and minimizing loss calculated on scenarios and contingencies. Highlands Corporation bought the property under the auspices of potato farming. If Highlands used the guise of a potato farm to apply for a quarry, it follows that they are prospecting on water resources.

Highlands has made offers to purchase all the CN rail lines from Orangeville through to Owen Sound, an economically depressed former Great Lakes port where they can ship the aggregate across the world follow that with a pipeline to export water.

This is not the first time Baupost has gone after the water according to Joyce Nelson’s article ‘Beware of Private Water Speculators’ published by the Canadian Centre for Policy Alternatives. In 2007 under the name Costal Management Resources, Baupost Group purchased 25,000 acres of ranch land in Southern California.In January 2007 The Santa Barbara Independent reported that Baupost “is seeking to purchase a massive amount of state water rights from the Carpentaria Valley Water District”.

According to Nelson, Baupost is using a “buy and hold” strategy where investors count on “eventually leasing the water back to those who can pay for it, or selling the water to government for local needs”.

During the five-day walk blessings were given to the rivers buried in culverts at crossing under the roads.On the last day a mist overtook the walkers at source of the headwaters where a large Highlands Aggregate Act Application sign looms over the landscape.

Patricia Watts, Anishinaabekwe, spoke as the walkers and community members shared a feast: “This hurts me, those last four kilometres when I came on to Highlands, this property that is owned by these… S.O.B.s, it made me sick, it drained my body, it took every effort out of me to make those last four kilometres, but I pray to my Mother Earth, I pray to the spirits of the water, I pray to my spirit that walks with me, I pray to my Mishomis and my Nokomis, which is my grandmother and grandfather who I was taken away from when I was three, but they walk with me and they gave me the strength to continue on.”

According to Watts “this Highland Company needs to stop seeing with eyes filled with dollar signs, ears filled with dollars signs; money. There are more important things in this world than money and building a mega-quarry that is not needed” adding “Highland Companies: we’re going to stop you, this is not going to happen.”

Over 4500 letters of objection and comments made on the Ontario Ministry of Environment’s registry have prompted the Ontario Government to call an environmental assessment (EA) for the quarry.  The EA may only be a partial victory as the Environmental Commissioner of Ontario Gord Miller has pointed out EA increasingly stands for Expedited Approval.

 

Originally published in Arthur, Trent University and Peterborough's Independent Press

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Zach Ruiter (Zach Ruiter)
Peterborough, ON
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