Aggregate industry is on the move again

(Canada)  —  Day 2 of Shifting Sands continues Friday with a look at the Dufferin Aggregates Ltd. plan for phased extraction, rehabilitation and return to agriculture of its pending gravel pit north of Paris; and complaints from municipalities that they are not getting enough in aggregate royalties to pay for their responsibilities.

There is no mistaking the sounds of machines digging, the revving engines of trucks hauling away dirt and rock, and the cacophony of political debate in the council chambers and community centres of Brantford and Brant.

Whether it’s one company’s attempt to open a new gravel pit or another one’s desire to close a depleted one and rehabilitate or redevelop it, there is no escaping the reality that the aggregate industry is on the move again.

And it’s having an ever-deepening impact on the landscapes of both municipalities.

Residents can see it in the notices posted on Watts Pond Road north of Paris, where Dufferin Aggregates displays its licence to open a pit on farmland.

They also can read them on King Edward Street right in the town, where Lafarge is applying to more than double the area of a well-established pit invisible behind high berms of grass and trees.

Other residents can read more on Bishopsgate Road northeast of Burford, where St Marys Cement is seeking a licence to start a pit on another parcel of farmland.

It’s clear to city politicians, staff and environmental groups watching the proceedings of an important Ontario Municipal Board hearing where lawyers and planners are meting out the issues surrounding development in the environmentally sensitive Hardy Road area.

They can follow as one protagonist, Telephone City Aggregates, defends its intent to transform an old, depleted pit into a housing subdivision, a commercial-industrial area and green space right in the middle.

And who, looking out a car window on Highway 403 by the Oak Park Road interchange, can miss the tortured moonscape apparition on the north side?

That’s where the city and developer King and Benton have so far been unable to breathe new life into the bleak remains of a decades-old pit complex that a former company was not obliged to rehabilitate.

Together, all these instances are manifestations of an aggregate industry that has been operating in the area for eight decades, and is going through another wave — in tandem with a wave of economic growth and human settlement in the Greater Toronto Area and the Greater Golden Horseshoe Area beyond the Greenbelt.

FROM THE GROUND UP

The sand and gravel business settled into the Brantford-Brant area mainly in the 1920s and 1930s. A group of family-owned operations took advantage of rich deposits in the tail end of the Galt-Paris Moraine left by retreating glaciers.

The companies extracted sand and gravel to serve a mostly local wave of growth that took off after the Second World War. In the process, they pock-marked the fields with worked out pits and discarded many of them – one of the consequences of inadequate provincial legislation that didn’t force them to rehabilitate.

Brant Mayor Ron Eddy decries the loss of “verdant” farmland to past thoughtless aggregate extraction.

“Many of those pits are still very apparent,” he recalled in an interview.

“It was so prevalent back then it became part of the landscape. You got used to driving by those pits. What was so bad was that a bunch of small pits at a time would be worked, with no thought to returning the land to farming.”

During the past three decades, many of the original operators sold out their companies, land holdings and extraction rights to an ever more concentrated, small group of corporations with national reach.

They, in turn, were absorbed into international conglomerates.

With that trend, extraction practices improved, Eddy acknowledged, with major corporations purchasing whole farms with several hundreds of acres and having to file staged extraction and rehabilitation plans for the whole life of a pit.

“I suppose it’s a little better that way now,” he said, “but the effect is still there. There are still a lot of pits where nothing was done.”

CONGLOMERATION

Corporate concentration in the aggregate sector has been particularly strong in Brantford-Brant and the wider area.

Telephone City Gravel became Telephone City Aggregates, which in turn became a division of James Dick Construction Ltd. based out of Bolton, Ont. The parent firm and its subsidiaries operate 18 gravel pits in southern Ontario.

St Marys Cement is a subsidiary of Votorantim Cimentos, based in Brazil and currently the 10th largest in the world.

Founded by John Lind and Alfred Rogers in 1912 in St. Marys, Ont., the 100-year-old company is a major producer of cement-making materials in the Great Lakes Region, and has pit and quarry interests close at hand.

Dufferin Aggregates, with 10 quarries and 18 sand and gravel pits, is a division of Holcim Canada, based in Concord, Ont., which in turn is part of the Holcim Group centred in Switzerland.

In the area, it has pits in Aberfoyle/Mill Creek, Cambridge and a licence to open a pit north of Paris. It also has pits in Acton, Flamboro, Milton and Woodstock.

On its website, Lafarge North America casts itself as “the largest diversified supplier of construction materials in the U.S. and Canada.” In the area, it has pit or quarry holdings in Brantford, Paris, Greensville, Cambridge, Guelph and Hagersville.

The common interest of these corporations is in operating pits and quarries in close proximity to a new wave of growth in southern Ontario – primarily in redevelopment n the Greater Toronto Area and new settlement and industrial development in the Greater Golden Horseshoe area beyond the Greenbelt.

REGULATORY CHANGE

In the meantime, the regulatory regime has changed. In 1990, the government replaced its old Pits and Quarries Act with the Aggregate Resources Act.

The new act introduced new regulations that set up a public process for aggregate companies to apply for a licence, undertake studies, and file a site plan for progress extraction, and a plan for rehabilitation.

The government has undertaken a review of that legislation in the past year and is expected to introduce amendments soon .

But while the corporations are dealing with changes in regulations, they are also encountering a simultaneous counter-force in popular opposition to their attempts to tap new resources.

With each project, the critique carries some combination of lingering anger over all the abandoned pits, concern over a project’s impact on farmland and ground water when extracting below the water table; along with concerns about noise, dust and loss of property values.

With more experience and sophisticated management, the corporations are responding with a combination of better community consultation strategies, public education programs, being better corporate citizens, and displaying increased environmental sensitivity.

Each company is experiencing varying success with its chosen strategy.

DUFFERIN

The largest battle is faced by Dufferin, which has been embroiled with the county and the group Concerned Citizens of Brant over the company’s intention announced more than a year ago to open a sand and gravel pit on 642 acres of farmland on the north and south sides of Watts Pond Road.

The county and the group are raising a cry over Dufferin’s use of a 39-year-old licence it acquired in 1974. They claim that too many asp
ects of the licence conditions have changed and they are concerned about the company’s intent to extract below the water table near a municipal well field.

They have appealed to the minister of natural resources, and have made an application to the Environmental Commissioner to have the licence reviewed or revoked.

All attempts have been rebuffed. In the latest attempt concerning the appeal to the Environmental Commissioner, a report from the natural resources ministry concluded that Dufferin has followed all steps with various ministries and regulatory agencies in the process of activating its licence.

Nonetheless, CCOB president Ron Norris vows the group will continue the fight.

“We have the support of the county council voting to ask the Ministry of Natural Resources to revoke or review the licence,” he said.

“We have public support and will continue to build on this support.”

ST MARYS CEMENT

St Marys embarked on a failed attempt to open the proposed Flamborough Quarry on two adjacent, disused farm properties north of Carlisle. It took over a project begun by a different, unpopular company.

But the new owner ran into concerted opposition from farmers, other rural residents, and the village of Carlisle – all marshalled by a group called Friends of Rural Communities and the Environment.

The grassroots action was supported by the city of Hamilton, Halton Region, numerous agriculture and environmental groups, and the Ontario government.

The province ultimately stymied the project by issuing a ministry order to keep the land’s agricultural designation. Last month, a nine-year battle ended when the government reached a $15-million cost settlement with the company, in return for its withdrawal from a series of legal challenges.

In Brant, St Marys is concentrating its efforts on an application to the Ministry of Natural Resources for a licence to operate its proposed Olszowka sand and gravel pit on about 500 acres of farmland on Bishopsgate Road northeast of Burford.

The company is beginning to encounter the same local opposition, albeit at a lower level right now. The company is also at the early stage of the approval process, having finally submitted its application only a few months ago, after years of study.

LAFARGE

Lafarge is applying to extend its current 172-acre licence to add 244 acres for a total 425 acres in its West Paris pit on King Edward Street.

Company spokesman Chris Galway earlier told The Expositor that Lafarge is counting on its reputation as a good corporate citizen in the area, and the fact that the West Paris pit has enjoyed good operations while it has been in continuous operation for several decades.

The pit was started by Standard Industries in the 1920s, and Lafarge took over its operations in the early 1990s. It has observed all local bylaws and regulations, and has undertaken a tree-planting program on its dyke, involving youth organizations as environmental exercises.

“People are used to us being there,” Galway said. “We believe our track record speaks for itself.”

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