Photo by LexnGer | flickr.com

Over the past year, a southern Ontario farming community has born first hand witness to one of the largest bait-and-switch environmental scandals the province has ever seen. Astoundingly, many main stream news outlets have let the story slip through the cracks.

The Highland Group of Companies, a hedge fund managed out of Boston, began buying up roughly 8,000 acres of land just north of Shelburne, Ontario, under the pretence of amalgamating these farms into a large scale potato farming operation.

As many of the properties acquired were already being used for commercial farming, most of the sales went on unopposed. Some in the area even praised the efforts of these investors as they were paying well over market value for the land. However, it was soon after the majority of the property had been acquired that plans for the land deviated sharply. The Highland Group suddenly changed their proposal from creating the biggest potato farming operation in Ontario to applying for permissions to create a “Mega Quarry".

The environmental ramifications of having an open pit mine this size in one of the most fertile farming areas in the entire country are staggering.  The quarry itself would be a massive strip-mined hole of roughly 2,316 acres and would almost certainly have an adverse effect on the water and surrounding agricultural land.  The location of the proposed quarry contains numerous streams and tributaries that feed into the Nottawasaga and Grand Rivers. Experts maintain that disruptions to these water systems could have dire consequences for the over 1 million people served by these water sources. In addition, the Highland Group has stated that the operation of the quarry will require the management of more than 600 million litres of water every day.

Air quality is another issue that opponents of the quarry have rallied behind. Because the quarry is an open pit strip mine it would use dynamite blasts to clear the area. These blasts would throw dust containing dangerous carcinogens into the surrounding air. The increase in traffic resulting from the quarry is also estimated to be about 300 trucks per hour which would most certainly affect air quality.

The creation of this quarry would not only be an environmental disaster, but a substantial step backwards in sustainable and environmentally friendly construction methods. LEED Certification, the rating system for the design and construction of environmentally friendly buildings, requires the majority of aggregate used in construction projects to be reused from previous endeavours. The mega quarry makes a serious case against this sustainable model, providing much cheaper aggregate all over the region, and largely removing the incentive to utilize sustainable construction methods. The decision over whether to approve the quarry now rests with the Ontario Government as they review the application put forth by the Highland Group. One can only hope that the government has the sense to see that this project would be incredibly damaging to the environment and prevent excavation from commencing.