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Nabi: The Political Schizophrenia of the Melancthon Mega-Quarry

July 3, 2011

The proposed mega-quarry in Melancthon township raises more than a few concerns from an environmental and public health perspective. Linda Jeffrey, Ontario’s Minister of Natural Resources, is right to have extended the comment period beyond what is required by the Aggregate Resources Act, and I’m sure that the local opposition to this quarry will do everything it can to stop the project.

Besides the threat to local food supply, sensitive bird habitats, and most of Southern Ontario’s drinking water, there is an underlying trend with this proposal that disturbs me far more.

In all of Ontario’s major policy documents, including the Provincial Policy Statement, The Greenbelt Act, The Growth Plan For the Greater Golden Horseshoe, and The Regional Transportation Plan, our government has stressed the need for Ontario’s cities to grow in a more compact and intensified way.

These policies have imposed growth boundaries around municipalities, forcing cities to grow up, not out. Curbing suburban sprawl has been a fixture of the last five years of provincial policy. And the math is simple: if you have more people and jobs in a smaller area, infrastructure costs go way down. People aren’t dependent on the automobile, and other forms of transportation become economically viable. Further, and perhaps most important for the Melancthon case, compact cities preserve the rural hinterlands, allowing more local food production to take place.

So what does this have to do with the mega-quarry? Well, a major factor (especially in Ontario) encouraging suburban sprawl is the availability of cheap aggregate. You see, new suburban development requires massive amounts of sand and gravel to lay the foundation for new homes, strip malls, and big-box stores. Ontario doesn’t put an additional tax on aggregate, as some jurisdictions do, which makes sprawling subdivisions more lucrative for developers than inner-city redevelopment or infill projects.

The Highland Companies, the major investor in the mega-quarry, explain the need for increased amounts of aggregate in order to accommodate Ontario’s strong growth over the next 20 years. I’m willing to bet that the type of “growth” they’re talking about isn’t high-density development in the designated Urban Growth Centres. A future without loads of cheap aggregate is seen as a threat: “This looming aggregate shortfall will require the licensing of significant new resources …” The other alternative, of course, being to alter the status quo of the development industry, which is exactly what the provincial strategies for compact growth are supposed to do.

It’s this schizophrenia at the provincial level that frustrates me most about the Melancthon mega-quarry. I won’t argue against the right of farmers to sell their land if they so wish, but this project goes against the very kind of compact, vibrant cities that Ontario says it wants to have.

At the very least, it’s about time the Ontario government rolled out a supplementary tax on aggregate. Such a tax balances the cheap up-front cost of unsustainable construction (i.e. suburban sprawl) with its long-term negative impacts (reduced agricultural land, higher infrastructure costs per capita, and the like).

Some might say it’s bad policy for governments to “choose winners” in industry. In this case, I beg to differ. The Melancthon mega-quarry supports a business model that is financially and environmentally unsustainable. It supports the kind of development that the Growth Plan for the Greater Golden Horseshoe specifically discourages. It’s completely within reason for the government to prohibit the development of this mega-quarry.

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6 Comments leave one →
  1. July 3, 2011 8:54 pm

    Long story short, we are not properly taxing the urban expansion that is/ will continue to take place throughout Ontario? I agree generally with the sustainable drive whilst expanding, but has this kind of “oh yeah just take it” type of land policybecome the norm in order to encourage sustained urban growth?

    • July 5, 2011 6:11 pm

      McGuinty’s government talks a big game about sustainable urban growth, but aside from the Greenbelt Plan I’ve yet to see real teeth. Transit City never got funded, and designated Urban Growth Centres like Hamilton aren’t actually getting provincial support to realize that goal. All this contributes to the encroachment of urban growth on agricultural and natural areas.

  2. July 7, 2011 2:32 pm

    I am confused. Why is there a map of Toronto here?

  3. July 7, 2011 6:21 pm

    I believe it was to show the scale of the quarry compared to something that people are familiar with ?

  4. July 7, 2011 6:43 pm

    ah yes…thanks!

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