Rarely has an issue brought about the flood of responses that the proposed Nelson Quarry expansion has in Burlington.
The City of Burlington had to deal with 1,669 pages of comments from the public, 21 delegations and almost 100 people in Council Chambers all wishing to be heard. By a very large margin, they were asking council to oppose Nelson Aggregates’ plan for an expansion to the mine on No. 2 Sideroad that has been extracting limestone from the site for 70 years and hopes to for another 30 years.
Many of the comments told of promises made but not kept; of long delayed plans to close the operation; of questions about water quality, dust in the air, noise from the blasting, trucks travelling to and from the quarry; of questionable soil being brought onsite; of a plan to reform the huge amount of land (nearly 1,000 acres) that has been mined with a beautiful park, sometime in the future, by entities unnamed or costs factored in.
A number of residents, in person and through written comments, told their story of moving to the area to enjoy the natural area fully expecting, and being told, that the lifespan of the quarry was coming to an end.
Diane Gregg reminded council that over a decade ago a visioning exercise with the public in the area asked the question, “What do you want to see in the future for Mount Nemo?”
The answer was a resounding, “No quarry.”
Questions about restoration plans for a park with beaches and picnic areas and other amenities were raised. One resident told the committee, “My great-grandchildren will never even see this ‘park.'”
Scott Patterson recalled the time he golfed on the adjacent course (that is now part of the expansion plan) only to hear “what sounded like a missile fly through the air” and then saw a number of men in hard hats come from the direction of the quarry asking if anyone was hurt or saw anything.
Flyrock, the debris projected as a result of blasting the quarry walls, was a constant complaint by the group. Gord Pinard, representing CORE Burlington, a local community group, noted that most flyrock studies have two parts – the actual blast and the potential of flyrock to travel beyond the boundaries of the quarry. According to him, Nelson’s study does not include the latter.
Doug Christilaw, an engineering technologist, relayed his experience with the testing of soil imported to quarries to replace the land blasted out.
“The import of soil has led to unacceptable practices,” Christilaw explained. “People move soil around depending on what they can get away with.”
To observe what goes in and out of the existing Nelson quarry, one resident said that her husband followed a few trucks in and out and was amazed to follow a truck full of aggregate from a Cambridge quarry to be processed at Nelson. Nelson’s provincial licence (in fact all aggregate licenses) allow for the import of aggregate from other sources to be processed. This sort of belies the often touted claim that aggregate needs to be close to the end use.
Amy Schnurr, executive director of BurlingtonGreen, shared that global leaders were currently meeting at the UN to discuss climate change and what each country could do.
“Every level of government needs to be part of the solution,” Schnurr said. “While our leaders are discussing what their countries are doing, we need to look locally and ask what we can do. Burlington can be a leader by helping to protect this UNESCO Biosphere Reserve.”
Janet Turpin-Meyers asked, “Would New York City allow an aggregate mine in the middle of Central Park? Mount Nemo is that important to Burlington.”
Air quality, truck trips (800 per day), the frustration of dealing with expansion again, the draw from the water table that feeds several creeks into Burlington and other parts of Halton, the number of quarries already on the Niagara Escarpment, the real need for more aggregate when studies show that existing quarries hold 13 times the amount currently needed, and other personal anecdotes were relayed by those who attended in person and through written comments.
Pinard stated the objective of the public’s participation is to give council the opportunity to hear about the Joint Agency Review Team (JART) report and from the community about the opposition to the Nelson quarry expansion. JART refers to a panel of experts drawn from regional entities and outside experts.
“City council always said they would be guided by the facts and analysis and I think those are very compelling,” said Pinard. “I think the number of submissions is reflective of the opposition by the community. There’s been few opportunities to submit comments directly to the City or to the Ministry of Natural Resources and Forestry, or the Region.
"The technical facts say that there’s a whole lot of issues and the people facts say that the constituents around the area think this is a bad idea.”
During the three-and-a-half hours of public delegations there was one person in the chamber who held a differing opinion. Sitting quietly and absorbing the comments from the public, many of the concerns heard before, was Kevin Powers, a spokesperson from Nelson Aggregates.
After the crowd left, Powers had a few comments of his own to make.
“We know that this is going to the OLT and we believe that there the science will demonstrate that this a solid project that will have no adverse environmental effect and that it will be ultimately approved,” said Powers. “We’ve been closely working with the public for the past four years now. We’ve heard the concerns, we’ve tried to address the concerns and we believe that the concerns around water, noise, dust, blasting all are addressed and we will meet Ontario standards."
Powers noted that most of the 600 deficiencies identified in the JART report were due to formatting issues or spelling errors.
"There are very few substantive issues and those issues have been addressed by our scientists," he said. "We believe that we have a strong case for the quarry. We believe we have a great rehabilitation plan. Ultimately. we feel that the OLT will realize that there are no adverse environmental effects that can’t be mitigated and that this is a project that is necessary for affordable housing, for the environment and for the greater good of Ontario.”
Pinard expects the OLT process to last another 12 to 15 months before a final decision is made. In the meantime, CORE Burlington and others involved plan to keep the pressure on Nelson and the City of Burlington and keep up their presentations of research, technical studies and legal depositions to the OLT so that as the application moves and shifts and compromises may be made, the public’s voice is continually heard.
That costs a lot of money.
Pinard calculated that CORE Burlington has raised close to $200,000 so far to pay for its technical studies, experts in various fields and legal fees.
“Every time our lawyers send a letter, it costs money,” said Pinard. Because there is much more that lies ahead, Pinard expects another $200,000 to $300,000 will be needed to help keep the expansion from happening.
“Yes, it’s kind of a David and Goliath story,” mused Pinard, “but we must keep going forward.”