From water extraction in Wellington County to quarrying in Milton, citizens are standing up to corporate interests and demanding legislation to protect our natural shared assets.
By Doreen Nicoll
Published July 25, 2019
On July 15, Wellington Water Watchers (WWW) unveiled a billboard on Gordon Street, just north of Nestlé's bottling plant in Aberfoyle, Ontario. It asks people to send Premier Doug Ford a letter demanding a full Environmental Assessment of water bottling by Nestlé and other corporations in Ontario.
Wellington Water Watchers new billboard
In 2016, the former Ontario government of Kathleen Wynne imposed a moratorium on new permits to take water for bottling yet the Ontario government permits the extraction of more than 4.5 billion litres of water each year.
Any day now, Nestlé is expected to submit an application to the Ontario government to renew their permit to extract up to 4.7 million litres of water per day from their wells in Aberfoyle and Hillsburgh. And that concerns residents of Guelph, the largest city in Canada that relies entirely on groundwater for its drinking water.
Filing this application will trigger a 90-day online consultation process. The public is encouraged to make submissions. However, it's important to note this online consultation was purposely designed to prevent citizens concerned about the environmental consequences, commodification of water, plastic waste, and disregard of Six Nations treaty rights from having direct contact with decision-makers.
WWW, a non-profit organization committed to the protection of local water and to educating the public about threats to the watershed, believes the application and review process fails to adequately assess the consequences of Nestlé's water mining.
WWW believes the online consultation process intentionally 'de-politicizes' an issue of important public concern since water is for life not profit and must be discussed directly with elected political representatives.
The first step WWW would like to see is Doug Ford's government impose a full Environmental Assessment on the policy of issuing permits to take water for the purposes of bottling, so there can be a full public discussion of water bottling by Nestlé and other commercial water bottling operations in Ontario.
While fighting to save their local ground water, WWW has found itself partnering with nearby towns and municipalities who are themselves fending off corporate interest's intent on putting profit above water safety.
Concerned Residents Coalition (CRC) of Rockwood are raising the triple threat the proposed Hidden Quarry poses to their community including flying rock, water contamination and increased truck traffic.
Seven years ago, the CRC began fighting an application by James Dick Construction Ltd. (JDC) to open a 61.5-acre gravel pit on land zoned agricultural at Highway 7 and 6th Line Eramosa. The quarry just west of Rockwood would extract 700,000 tonnes of stone, sand and gravel for the next two decades.
Highway 7 is less than 100 meters from the proposed blast perimeter and will potentially be in the path of flyting debris. Greg Sweetnam of JDC has been quoted as calling this concern fear mongering, but lived experience has proven that rocks have been sent flying into busy intersections and onto roadways causing damage to passing vehicles.
JDC's current plan includes blasting 21 mitres (70 feet) below the water table in the quarry and that could allow contaminated surface water to enter the groundwater through natural fissure fractures and pores in the limestone bedrock. Contaminated groundwater could then infect the city's municipal well as well as private wells downstream from the quarry setting the stage for another Walkerton crisis.
If Hidden Quarry begins production, residents of Acton will have to resign themselves to one gravel truck driving down their main street every 90 seconds, 6 days a week for the next 20 years impacting traffic congestion; air and noise pollution; property values and general quality of life.
WWW believes every campaign to protect water in one community protects water for everyone so it is also partnering with The Association of Citizens Together in Our Nassagaweya (ACTION Milton).
Some 25 years ago a gravel pit was operating in Campbellville located in the Town of Milton. The pit had been inactive for over 20 years and the company's license was revoked in 2008. During that time, a vibrant suburban neighbourhood established itself and the quarry property transformed back into a thriving natural habitat enjoyed by local residents.
Two years ago, JDC purchased this land with the intention of reactivating the gravel pit. Unfortunately, that would destroy this naturalized paradise. According to ACTION Chair George Minakaris, residents "want it to be sold back to the Town, Region or the Conservation and turned into a park. There will be amazing nature trials, fishing, swimming and wild life to observe.
"In fact, if James Dick Construction Ltd does philanthropic work this would be a great way to agree with us and leave this land alone it would be better served for the community as a park."
If the application is approved, over 990,000 tonnes per year of stone, sand, and gravel could be accessed via underwater blasting from the now defunct quarry. Issues that concern residents include impact on water quality, air quality, excessive dust, traffic noise and congestion, economic impact on the casino which provides significant income for the city, emergency medical services being caught up in traffic, impact on wildlife and wetlands.
When Halton Region staff became aware of this application back in August of 2018 and filed a letter of objection with the Ministry of Natural Resources and Forestry in September. The town of Milton and Conservation Halton have also filed letters of objection.
According to Minakaris, "James Dick Construction has made no effort to contact us to discuss our issues. They have as we understand it met with the Town of Milton and Halton Region. Not sure about the Conservation Authority. There is no environmental assessment/review planned as far as we know at this time. Although there should be and Premier Doug Ford should be the one asking for this."
On May 8, 2019 ACTION held a public meeting and the room was filled beyond capacity - over 300 people. Minakaris says the reaction to the proposed reactivation of the gravel pit was: "The community is outraged that this is actually happening. They all came to the meeting each with their own concerns. They listened to our legal council. The Mayor of Milton Gord Krantz, Lisa Raitt MP for Milton, Regional Councillor Colin Best and Councillor Kristina Tesser Derksen all made a presentation. Toward the end of the meeting and with less than 30 minutes left we were able to raise over $100,000 dollars and we anticipate the contributions to continue to come in to hire technical experts and scientists."
Missing from the meeting was MPP Parm Gill.
Minakaris says the problem Campbellville is facing is do competitive practices condoned by the Ministry of Natural Resources and Forestry. Guelph, Rockwood and Campbellville advocates know that this is all about location and the ability of an operator to gain competitive advantages.
Quarry owners see being close to market as idea in order to secure business. Minakaris sees this as, "An outdated supply practice and this is what puts aggregate operators at odds with communities. The aggregate industry needs a better Supply Chain Management System, and I believe it is one of the few resource-based industries that doesn't have one. Because of that communities are continually at risk with their water table, quality of air, prone to more noise, dust, traffic from 60,000 to 90,000 trucks per year that doesn't include service and employee vehicles."
What is also at risk is the Town of Milton. In December of last year, Milton had boil water order. Over 20,000 people get their water from the Kelso Wellheads which are also fed from the same aquifer the community gets its water.
That aquifer happens to be on the land that JDC bought in 2016. The Town and the Region had been working on rezoning that land for over the last nine years and JDC is now challenging them on that.
The economic risk is to the revenue that the Town of Milton gets from the Casino at Mohawk Raceway. On a weekly basis the Town's revenue is $118,000 but James Dick Construction Ltd. is offering about $800 a week for road repairs which hardly seems a good pay off for voters and tax payers
"The provincial government is the only body that can step in right now and intervene," Minakakis says. "I'm asking Doug Ford to step in and intervene this now because it's not right for the community. I would like to meet with Premier Doug Ford in person. I am not an environmentalist or an activist, I am business person with a great deal of global experience. What we are seeing potentially happening to our community is fundamentally wrong on many levels. I have attended Conservative meetings and I have heard the Premier speak, I believe he will listen to a reasonable and responsible business person."
The ball's in Ford's court. Let's see if he's willing to meet with WWW, CRCR and ACTION to do the right thing.
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