On the spiritual value of stone

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The view of Hope Bay from the top of the Niagara Escarpment. Dow Chemical’s plans for a huge quarry in Hope Ness 50 years ago included a shipping facility here

The extraction of massive amounts of stone from the bedrock of southern Ontario for use in construction, landscaping and road-building is expected to increase as the province’s population continues to grow.

The Bruce Peninsula has long been a source of stone for those uses and continues to reflect a continuing and anticipated, growing demand as existing quarries expand and new ones are licensed or proposed. For example, a 143- hectare (315-acre) quarry just north of the long-established former Angelstone, now Adair, quarry in the Hope Bay area was approved this past summer over the concerns of the Saugeen Ojibway Nation.

The Peninsula is part of the traditional territory of the two local First Nations that comprise the SON. The Supreme Court of Canada  has ruled non-Aboriginal governments have a duty to consult First Nations regarding development in their traditional territories.

A proposed quarry on the west side of Highway 6 about three kilometres north of Wiarton is currently going through the Aggregate Resources Act approval process for licensing. “Stop Highway 6 Quarry” signs have been posted by nearby residents.

The Ontario government recently completed a lengthy review of the Aggregate Act, which is administered by the Ministry of Natural Resources and Forestry. The Ontario Mining Act is also being updated. The aim for changes to both acts is to “create a modern framework to help aggregate companies and communities across the province to continue building roads, hospitals, schools and other vital infrastructure projects with these resources,” says a provincial news release.

The release notes Ontario’s population is expected to grow by 4.2 million people by 2041. “The infrastructure needed for this growth requires aggregate resources,” it says.

Amendments to the Aggregate Act include changes designed to increase “public participation in the extraction application approval process.”

That’s a good thing, because that aspect of the current approval process is broken, to the detriment of both aggregate developers and “the public,” especially other local residents and landowners in the vicinity of proposed quarries.

The provincial news did not say anything about how the Ontario government plans to meet its legal obligation to consult First Nations and accommodate their concerns.

The details of how the intention to increase public participation will actually be accomplished is not yet clear and likely won’t be until the new regulations that routinely come in the wake of the approval of new or revised legislation are in place.

The current requirement that quarry developers must contact and seek comments from “adjacent” residents or landowners within 120 metres of the proposed quarry is one thing that badly needs changing.

That’s a ridiculously inadequate distance; 120 metres barely begins to take the pulse of a community’s potential concerns about the development of a quarry taking many thousands of tonnes of stone from the ground, and the noise, traffic, dust and potential environmental impact that involves.

To leave people with the feeling their concerns are not worthy of respect, to leave them feeling they’ve been blind-sided by being left with too little time to get the information they need, let alone give it due consideration and then make their views and comments known – that’s the last things anyone needs. It is a virtual recipe for confrontation and conflict, not healthy dialogue.

The controversay now surrounding the proposed quarry just north of Wiarton is an example of how the current approval process and its approach to public participation might as well have been designed to create such problems.

The applicant for a quarry licence in this situation is Darren Arsenault, a commercial landscaper in the Waterdown (Hamilton) and Kitchener area. He has said he and his family have had a longstanding seasonal connection with the peninsula. He told the Wiarton Echo earlier this past fall that he has done a lot of business with local quarries “for a long, long time. And now I want to do my own thing.”

Arsenault hired Cuesta Planning Consultants of Owen Sound to help steer the application through the approval process. There are actually two processes. One, under the Aggregate Act, and another that requires approval of Town of South Bruce Peninsula official plan and zoning amendments.

A Summary Statement prepared by Cuesta says Arsenault proposes to licence 32.13 hectares (79.39) acres of the property north of Wiarton, which is part of the Town of the South Bruce Peninsula. The extraction of an annual 50,000 tonnes of stone will take place on 19.20 hectares (47.44) acres.

On Sept 19, 2016, on behalf of Arsenault, Cuesta held a public meeting in Wiarton to meet the requirements of the Aggregate Act. Most of the 50 people in attendance had not been circulated for comment because they were within 120 metres of the proposed quarry; rather, they had noticed a small advertisement near the Obituary section of The Owen Sound Sun Times, local residents have said.

Many of those who attended the meeting were disappointed with the open-house format of the meeting, with maps set up and some of the people involved in preparing the many reports backing up the proposal on hand to answer questions one-on-one.  By that time reports regarding such things as noise, traffic, hydrology and overall environmental impacts had been prepared months earlier. Residents began to demand a more formal public presentation and the atmosphere at the meeting became “heated,” spokespersons for a local residents’ group said in an interview.

Darren Arsenault, accompanied by a couple of other men, arrived in the midst of that controversy and became involved in a discussion with several people, one of whom challenged him to address the meeting in response to the concerns being raised.

It has been alleged Arsenault responded by making comments that led some people present to question the integrity of the Aggregate Act approval process regarding his quarry proposal.

No member of South Bruce Peninsula council was at the Sept. 19 meeting. Mayor Janice Jackson said she and other members of council became aware later of what Arsenault had allegedly said through contact later with local residents.

At their Oct. 4 meeting Council passed a resolution, expressing “critical concerns” regarding the proposed quarry. It also ordered a letter of concern to be sent to Natural Resources Minister Kathryn McGarry about the applicant’s alleged comments.

The strongly worded letter was sent to the Minister’s office Oct. 11. “The belief is that our residents have no voice and that despite any concerns they may have the applicant will be sucessful,” it said. The town’s letter also called for the quarry application to be subjected to “an elevated level of scrutiny,” and asked that 45-day public comment period be extended 90 days. But local residents said it was not extended after the Oct. 14 deadline.

A spokesperson in McGarry’s office said a response to the South Bruce Peninsula letter will be sent out “shortly.” She also said the Aggregate Act amendments are still awaiint third and final reading. Changes in the circulation-for-comment distance for adjacent landowners to 300, 500 or 1,000 metres will be subject to further consultation, she added.

Don Scott, of Cuesta Planning told me in an interview he didn’t hear what Arsenault allegedly said. Arsenault did not respond to my request, through Scott, for comment about what he said, or didn’t say, at the Sept. 19 meeting.

The official plan and zoning amendment approval process is on hold awaiting the outcome of the Aggregate Act approval process issues still outstanding.

The sooner the Ontario government gets its Aggregate act together (pun intended) the better, for all concerned, especially on the Bruce, formerly Saugeen, Peninsula.

As my readers will know I regard the peninsula as a special natural and spiritual place. And also as you know I have a special regard for the Hope Ness area north of Hope Bay. I’m not the only one of course. Since “time immemorial” First Nation people have regarded it as a sacred place of physical and spiritual healing.

Fifty years ago the natural environment of Hope Ness came very close to being destroyed when Dow Chemical proposed to turn it into a huge dolomite limestone quarry, with a shipping facility at Hope Bay. The rural, homestead community of Hope Ness was almost completely destroyed in preparation for that development, but for some reason it didn’t go ahead and the Province ended up acquiring the land. Much of it is now part of the provincial Hope Bay Nature Reserve which surrounds my little Cathedral Drive farm. My house and barn are among the few buildings that somehow survived the period of destruction.

I regard that, and, more importantly, the survival of the natural and spiritual envionment of Hope Ness as some kind of miracle.

Yes, there are practical matters to consider, like the future needs of infrastructure. There are other public needs and concerns that need to get a fair and proper hearing in good time: water, noise, traffic, fishing, and of course protection of the nearby natural environment.

There is nothing in the Aggregate Resources Act now, or likely in the proposed changes to the act, that makes specific provision for the spiritual value of an area, its land, the bedrock under it, and the importance of that to the natural and human community and their quality of life.

There should be.

A version of this was originally published in The Sun Times in December, 2016

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