Citizen Action Monitor

Ontario citizen activists stop US-backed mega-quarry proposal

“This is a clear demonstration that people can be heard and can make a change.”

No 620 Posted by fw, November 22, 2012

Melancthon quarry plan is no more by Chris Halliday,, November 21, 2012

US Highland Companies withdraws application for mining licence

Melancthon isn’t destined to become a mining town, at least not anytime soon.

The Highland Companies dropped a bombshell, sending quarry opponents into a frenzy on Wednesday (Nov. 21), when the company declared it has withdrawn its application for a licence to mine 2,316 acres of land for limestone in Melancthon.

Local resistance to the 2011 Highland application was immediate

“They thought they could just blow into Melancthon,” exclaimed Carl Cosack, chair of the North Dufferin Agricultural Community Taskforce (NDACT). “You can’t force something on a community of this nature without having repercussions.”

In February of 2011, The Highland Companies filed the largest aggregate extraction application to the Ministry of Natural Resources (MNR) in the province’s history.  Local residents soon brought forward a bounty of environmental concerns and quickly rallied together in fierce opposition to Highland’s plans.

Concerned the province’s Aggregate Resources Act (ARA) wouldn’t be sufficient to protect farmland and water resources from such a large application, residents, community groups, along with environmental agencies and advocates from across Ontario began demanding an environmental assessment (EA) be ordered.

Ontario government was slow to yield to demands for an environmental assessment

At first, it didn’t appear that an EA was forthcoming. One particular remark from then-Natural Resources Minister Linda Jeffrey served to stoke the fire. She reportedly told Melancthon council the township could gain a golf course after Highland was done with the land.

The provincial government later, in September of 2011, ordered Highland’s proposal to be subject to an environmental assessment (EA). Ever since then, all seemed to be quiet on the Highland front, until Wednesday.

Lack of community and government support cited as reasons Highland decided to withdraw its application

“It has just become increasingly clear that there just isn’t sufficient support to move forward with the approval process,” said John Scherer, principal of The Highland Companies. “We made a business decision, The Highland Companies did, that the right thing to do is to pull the application.”

That lack of support, Scherer explained, relates back to both the community and the provincial government. Asked whether Highland, which was still in the “preliminary stages” of the EA process, discovered its plans weren’t environmental viability, Scherer said that has never been the case.

Highland non-committal regarding future mining plans. Will continue potato farming in the interim

At this point, Highland plans to continue with its potato farming operations. Scherer, however, wouldn’t confirm or deny whether the company would re-visit the aggregate application again in the future.

“We have not made any other decisions on anything else at this time,” Scherer said, adding Highland will also cease any plans to re-develop Dufferin County’s abandoned rail corridor. “Those are the only decisions we have made. The only things we’re contemplating today.”

Melancthon Mayor relieved by the surprise decision

The recent events have certainly left Melancthon Mayor Bill Hill lost for words. Ever since Highland filed its aggregate application several years ago, it has been a challenging battle for Melancthon council to climb. “I’m just trying to digest it all myself,” Hill said, minutes after speaking with Scherer. “Even though I’m not American, I wished him a good Thanksgiving. I know I’ll enjoy my weekend a bit better.”

At this point, Hill isn’t going to worry too much about whether Highland, or another company, will submit another application in the future — “I’m going to take them at their word for now,” he said.

This is a clear demonstration that people can make change happen

Starting with a small town of about 2,835 residents, opposition to the quarry grew rapidly into a province-wide movement involving many of the major players across Ontario. Environmental advocates, musicians, chefs, actors, politicians, some of whom may not have even heard of Melancthon before, certainly know about it now.

“As dumb as it is going to sound, it is like the little engine that could,” Hill said. “This is a clear demonstration that people can be heard and can make a change. I’m honestly not sure what better example of that you’d want.”

Duplicitous Highland didn’t reveal its mining plans when it first purchased the farming land

While many of those quarry opponents jumped on board as the issue became more prevalent in social media and made news headlines, Melancthon farmer Dale Rutledge has been there since the beginning.

When Highland offered to purchased his property for a little more than its market value several years ago, the proposal didn’t pass Rutledge’s smell test. At the time, Highland hadn’t publicly announced its intent to mine in Melancthon, and Rutledge has been wary of the company’s plans ever since.

“We thought from day one there were so many things that weren’t right about it that this day would happen. That’s what kept us going,” he said. “Common sense seems to have prevailed.”

The major drivers factoring into Highland’s recent decision boiled down to what Scherer explained as a lack of support from the community and the province. Having to undergo an EA didn’t help either.

“It certainly made the process a lot more difficult,” Scherer said. “Obviously, we would have preferred a regulatory environment that didn’t change midway through the process.”

Highland’s biggest mistake was “arrogance”

From Cosack’s perspective, however, Highland’s biggest mistake in this whole process was “arrogance.” Perhaps the company underestimated the resolve of those fighting its proposal, he said.

“Ontarians really pulled together,” Cosack said. “I’d challenge you to come up with any other issue that has brought as many people together as this has in recent memory. There hasn’t been one that I can relate to.”

Highland admits it could have done better while maintaining the mining proposal remains sound

Considering Ontario’s need for close-to-market aggregate, Scherer stood by the merit of Highland’s proposal. Given the public relations war that ensued, however, he felt Highland could have done a better job in engaging the public in a more direct manner from the onset.

“We could have done that better,” Scherer admitted. “What we do know for sure is there is a need for good aggregate and our land is well suited and we just had to make a business decision.”

On the financial front, Scherer declined to disclose how much money Highland has spent trying to move its aggregate operation forward. He also declined to disclose why and when former principal John Lowndes resigned from the company.

Meanwhile, the community taskforce, NDACT, will make sure politicians don’t ignore food and water issues

Meanwhile, NDACT isn’t prepared to rest on its laurels. The group will continue to figure prominently into discussions with the province as it works to review the ARA [Aggregate Resources Act] and its provincial policy statement (PPS).

“Making sure that food and water remain first in politicians’ thinking, I don’t think that’s going to go away,” Cosack said. “Once the ARA protects prime agricultural food lands and source water regions from these types of development, we’re all going to go and return to our normal lives.”

During the last few years, NDACT has raised thousands of dollars in its fight against the proposed quarry, some of which include proceeds from several highly publicized events like Foodstock and Soupstock. NDACT hasn’t discussed what it intends to do with that money at this point.

Fight may not be over yet

For the moment, Cosack, like many quarry opponents across Ontario, is soaking in the good news. That doesn’t mean the fight is over yet.

“I do dare say I’m little cautious,” Cosack said. “As much as this is over, I think we really need to remember that two years from now, they can sell this to … anybody else, and start it all over again.”

For’s previous coverage of the quarry application, click here.

Fair Use Notice: This blog, Citizen Action Monitor, may contain copyrighted material that may not have been specifically authorized by the copyright owner. Such material, published without profit, is made available for educational purposes, to advance understanding of human rights, democracy, scientific, moral, ethical, and social justice issues. It is published in accordance with the provisions of the 2004 Supreme Court of Canada ruling and its six principle criteria for evaluating fair dealing

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