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Community Wins Fight Against Huge Quarry

The Highland Companies has been working for years to try to dig a giant quarry in prime agricultural land, in the face of stiff community resistance. Today, the company announced it has withdrawn its application.

For several years, residents in and around the township of Melancthon, just north of Toronto, have been fighting plans for a mega-quarry in the heart of the area’s farmland. The Highland Companies, founded in 2006 with the help of a Boston-based hedge fund, filed an application to build a 937-hectare limestone quarry pit last year. Formed specifically with the idea of digging this quarry, Highland had spent several years buying up small farms to form a contiguous property large enough to meet its mining goals. Other local farmers immediately raised concerns about how the quarry would affect the water table and surrounding region, as well as the loss of prime agricultural land to the quarry itself. Massive fundraising food parties were thrown on-site and in Toronto, and after considerable public pressure the Ministry of the Environment ordered a full environmental assessment to determine what the impacts would be.

Today, the Highland Companies announced that it has withdrawn its application for the quarry and has “no other plans [for the area] at this time.”

A map showing the size of the proposed limestone quarry relative to downtown Toronto, prepared by NDACT, a community group that's been fighting the plan.

“While we believe that the quarry would have brought significant economic benefit to Melancthon Township and served Ontario’s well-documented need for aggregate,” writes company representative John Scherer in a press release, “we acknowledge that the application does not have sufficient support from the community and government to justify proceeding with the approval process.” A spokesperson for Highland told us this withdrawal is permanent, and that there are no plans to refile an application—should, say, there be a change of government at Queen’s Park. (The Ministry of the Environment was unable to confirm immediately whether there is anything that would legislatively preclude Highland from doing so, however.) “Highland will continue to focus on its farms and on supplying its customers with high quality potatoes and other crops,” the news release goes on, also advising that president John Lowndes had resigned from the company.

UPDATE, 1:02 PM: Shortly after the announcement Maya Gorham, press secretary for Minister of Natural Resources Michael Gravelle, issued this response:

We understand The Highland Companies has announced the withdrawal of their application under the Aggregate Resources Act to develop a quarry in Melancthon Township. There had been significant public concern expressed with the proposal. In recognition of this, our government took steps to subject this application to the Environmental Assessment Act. It appears the company has recognized this public concern in their decision to withdraw their application. Aggregate resources continue to be necessary for Ontario’s economy and the revitalization and renewal of our urban infrastructure, however we must strive to achieve an appropriate balance that also protects our water, natural heritage and agricultural resources.

They can re-file the same application. However, the reports that are submitted with the application may need to be updated.

See also:

The story of the Melancthon farmers


  • Corbin Smith

    I have a feeling that “farming” is not something Highland want’s to be into for any kind of long-term plan. I wonder if they’ll consider selling off the land, or simply holding it in perpetuity until they can come up with a way to get back on the megaquarry track.

    Don’t get me wrong, this is amazing news and a huge victory for the local farmers, environmental activists, and basically anyone who eats vegetables or drinks water within a few 100 kilometres of Toronto. That said, Highland still owns that land and has never given anyone any reason to feel comfortable with their intentions for what they will do with it.

    • Ron Lehman

      You echo my sentiments perfectly on what Highland intends to do. All they see is money for shareholders and don’t give a damn for food production, birds, drinking water etc. Companies like this have absolutely no moral conscience. Money is their god and always will be.

  • Anonymous

    1) Nothing less than a full environmental assessment was ever appropriate for a project of this scale. The MoE should have ordered it without any public pressure.
    2) The purchasing company told sellers it was buying land to create a large farm, which is clearly untrue. The company set out to deceive, not least because many people wouldn’t have sold had known they known the truth.

    • Corbin Smith

      I feel that I remember being told that part of the problem (as perceived by the environmental activists and local farmers) is/was that there are no legislative checks-and-balances (provincial or federal) which call for a mandatory environmental assessment for this kind of project. I might not have that totally correct, but I remember hearing something along those lines.

      • Anonymous

        From our original feature on the quarry:

        Highland is able to make its bid for building a quarry in prime agricultural land because of Ontario’s planning priorities, which privilege aggregate extraction over other land uses. Though the MNR administers the licensing of quarries in Ontario through the Aggregate Resources Act, it is the province’s Planning Act that sets out land use priorities and therefore determines the decision-making principles according to which the MNR will grant or deny quarry applications. Section 2.5 of the Provincial Policy Statement (PPS), a subsection of the Planning Act, prioritizes aggregate extraction, stating that “Demonstration of need for mineral aggregate resources, including any type of supply/demand analysis, shall not be required, notwithstanding the availability, designation or licensing for extraction of mineral aggregate resources locally or elsewhere.” That is to say, prospective operators don’t need to make a case for building a quarry—they don’t need to demonstrate, for example, that aggregate extraction is of greater value to the province or the local community than agriculture. The default assumption is that aggregate is valuable and that it may be extracted unless a reason can be shown not to do so.

    • Ron Lehman

      Lies are always a part of the “game plan” when companies like Highland want to get what they want.
      Rather strange how us ordinary folk won the first battle, and God willing we will win all battles forthcoming.
      Truth always has a way of coming out.

  • Brian Young

    This is an amazing victory, but you have to wonder exactly what the statement, “Highland will continue to focus on its farms and on supplying its customers with high quality potatoes and other crops,”will actually mean. Highland already mowed down the grasslands on their holdings to chase away the Bobolinks and “prove” that there were no birds needing protection on their lands.
    Trustworthy landholders? Hardly.

    • Ron Lehman

      Your article is exactly correct. Companies like Highland and others could care less about a Bobolink and use fancy wording to justify what they are doing. It is their “game plan”. They and all lobbyists are experts at twisting the truth and downplaying morality and that is why we have these issues. It will never end until the balance of paving over the land will be in favour of farmland being protected BY OUR ELECTED OFFICIALS. Keep the fight up for our land.
      There is enough rock north of farmland to pave over all of the UK. France and Belgium. Let them go north for their rock!

  • Anonymous

    I seem to remember that part of the reason there is such pressure for local aggregate is that there is some provincial law/rule which mandates that it be obtained as locally as possible. Cuts down on emissions from transporting it around the province but does have consequences where market demand leads companies to acquire GTA farmland and make these sorts of applications.

  • Anonymous

    I’m just glad my apartment in Bloorcourt escaped the quarry.

    • Corbin Smith

      Christie Pits. #NeverForget.

  • Anonymous

    Could someone explain why Torontoist is covering this story? Melancthon is waaay outside Torontoist’s coverage area.

    • Anonymous

      A few reasons:

      - Toronto’s building needs are ostensibly the reason why the quarry was being proposed in the first place: our growing need for construction supplies is a big reason the province is prioritizing aggregates in land use policy, and was part of Highland’s sales pitch. If we’re the cause, or at least being cited as the cause, for a project like this, it’s worth looking at what the consequences of the project would be.

      - A great many local food activists took this on as a cause (as, for instance, with the Soupstock fundraiser, which was held in the city and which featured dozens of local chefs cooking).

      - There are also important issues in terms of the relationship between Toronto, the Greenbelt, and the broader agricultural regions of southern Ontario, and how development in one part affects the others. Toronto for decades has been a major centre for food processing, for instance, so changes in the region’s agriculture affects the economy here in the city, as well as the availability of Ontario produce in Toronto stores.

      Shorter answer: Toronto doesn’t exist in isolation, and this is a story that shows how the city’s development affects and is affected by other communities in the province.

  • sonia

    Might want to review the map. Don’t think downtown Toronto was the target for this project!