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NDACT easing concerns over Strada aggregate application

August 18, 2017   ·   1 Comments

By Marni Walsh

Local concern is growing over Bonnefield’s time-limited option for Strada Aggregates to acquire a 50-acre parcel of its farmland should Strada’s application to expand its existing 200-acre gravel pit by 150 acres be approved by Melancthon Township.

Bonnefield, the farm investment firm that purchased 6,500 acres of Melancthon farmland out of the ruins of the Highland Companies’ 2,400-acre megaquarry proposal, has stirred up concerns of some residents who fought alongside the North Dufferin Agricultural and Community Taskforce (NDACT) to protect the area’s land and water.

NDACT’s August Newsletter acknowledged that the Strada aggregate application, which includes the option on Bonnefield land, “raised concerns that the rare agricultural soil we fought so hard to protect could be at risk once more.”

However, NDACT sought to ease concerns, telling members, “we have been assured this is not the case.”

Bonnefield representative Lisa Courtney Lloyd told the Shelburne Free Press the investment firm “continues to enjoy an open and transparent relationship with NDACT and Food & Water First. They know the background and facts on the land in question, they understand that we remain true to our central mission of protecting farming for farmland and are communicating it to their members.”

However, some NDACT members contend they had no idea about the deal with Strada, including board member Karren Wallace. “I have only been on the Board for a couple of months,” she said. “Perhaps the issue was discussed before that, but the news caught me completely by surprise.”

In a July 31 letter to the editor published by the Orangeville Banner, Tom Eisenhauer, President & CEO of Bonnefield Investments, insisted that his company had been publicly forthright and “clear that the 50-acre parcel in question was of limited use as a farm and would likely be sold given that it was surrounded on three sides by existing Strada Aggregates operations and lands.”

He said the company had made efforts to lease the land to local farmers, but received no interest.

NDACT Chair Alia Jalbert says NDACT was “aware that Bonnefield had granted an option to purchase that parcel to Strada and that the parcel was not part of the tract of land intended for quarrying under the Mega-quarry application, however given the parcel’s composition and location, the sale to Strada was logical.”

NDACT’s stance, however, raised the question as to whether “easing concerns” over any new aggregate application was an appropriate role for the organization, which has garnered international attention as a guardian of food and water. Should NDACT rather, continue to push the question: Does this province need to lose any more farmland to aggregate?

Ms. Wallace who was raised on a potato farm in Melancthon, concedes that this application is “a drop in the bucket,” but asks, “Why do we keep letting this happen?” She points to a recent study by the Ministry of Municipal Affairs and Housing (MMAH) Provincial Planning Expert Victor Doyle, in which he states that despite intense lobbying by the aggregate industry, there is “more than sufficient” existing aggregate development to “accommodate projected growth to 2031 and likely to 2041” and that “any claims to the contrary are not borne out.”

Strada sales representative and lifetime Melancthon resident Ken Galbraith says the reason for the proposed Strada expansion was “to meet the company’s own needs in the city,” not Ontario’s needs.

While he was unaware of the public concern over Strada’s new 150-acre rezoning application, he did say in light of the township’s history with the Highland Companies, he understands it. He says Strada contributes to the community and wants residents to know that the new application is merely an extension of Strada’s current operation.

“Essentially we are just making the sandbox bigger,” he says, “there will be no changes in the licence – the rules will be the same. Mr. Galbraith says Strada will host an open house in August to “discuss the extension application and alleviate concerns.”

“As NDACT understands it, there will be no extraction below the water table,” Mr. Jalbert said. “Strada will now go through a more rigorous ARA process, thanks in part to NDACT’s efforts to ward off the Highland mega quarry application, which will provide the Township the opportunity for due diligence concerning haul routes and the rehabilitation of the land subsequent to extraction.”

Said Melancthon Mayor Darren White, “From the township’s perspective, we have deemed the application complete and it is in the early stages of review by our staff and consultants.”

The mayor added that all documents will be made available to the public at the upcoming open house and the Township will review the application “fairly and objectively like we have done in the past while keeping in mind proper protections for local natural areas as well as sensitive waterways and local wildlife.”

Ralph Armstrong, sixth-generation Redickville farmer and founding member of NDACT, says he thinks people often only see things in general terms; they don’t see the specifics.

“This new aggregate will just be transported to cover up foodland somewhere else,” he says. And so, the loss of farmland continues, at an alarming rate of 350 acres per day in Ontario, according to the 2011 census.

Karren Wallace says the problem is that despite NDACT’s 10 years of hard work, “our politicians still don’t grasp how rare prime agricultural land is.”

She said Dufferin-Caledon MPP Sylvia Jones, who was criticized for her ties to the aggregate industry during the last provincial election, “has been silent on the aggregate issue to date.”

According to Mayor White, Strada Aggregate currently has over 200 acres operating in Melancthon and acceptance of the new application would see that rise to 350 acres. This leaves residents to wonder, if each extension renders the farmland on the fringe less desirable, where it will stop?

         

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Readers Comments (1)

  1. DonnaB says:

    Friends of NDACT write:

    So many issues, so many questions:
    – farmland fragmentation
    – tonnage fees are notorious for not covering road maintenance
    costs
    – aggregate companies strive to cut their property taxes once the land is useless
    – not good for tourism
    – not good for neighbours
    – operational problems in the past with poor oversight by the provincial gov’t
    – no date/light at the end of the tunnel for final closure
    – when will the local community see the promised rehabilitation (these pits seem to live forever)?
    – why do we extract more virgin product instead of using recycled?
    – what other operations are in the area and is anyone looking at the consolidated impacts?

    “Should NDACT…continue to push the question: Does this province need to lose any more farmland to aggregate?”

    Of course.

    I agree.


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