Coalition calling for moratorium on Ontario's gravel quarries

A new coalition is calling for a moratorium on all new gravel quarries in Ontario.

Group says there’s more than enough gravel to meet demand, and expansion threatens ecosystems

A group in Ontario has organized to demand a moratorium on new quarries in the province, saying the current supply of gravel far outweighs the demand. (Lafarge)

A new coalition is calling for a moratorium on all new gravel quarries in Ontario.

Organizers of the Reform Gravel Mining Coalition say the industry has enough sites to meet demand, and further expansion of quarries damages ecosystems and threatens endangered species. 

Graham Flint, co-chair of the group, said the coalition formed after decades of "chronic" quarry development in the province. 

"After years and years of having individual communities deal with aggregate issues, a group of us felt that it was time to form a broader coalition and elevate the issues that these individual communities were facing to to a higher level to awareness across the province overall," Flint said. 

"Gravel mining is not a benign activity," Flint said. "It destroys the natural environment and damages communities. Its product is the feed source for highways and sprawl, the various things that are accelerating the climate crisis that we need to get under control." 

Flint said the call for a moratorium shouldn't be considered extreme.

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"The provincial government has granted licences for the industry to extract 13 times the amount of gravel every year than we actually use," Flint said. " Not double, or five times or 10 times, but 13 times the amount of gravel that we actually consume."

Relatively clean industry, aggregate group says

But Sharon Armstrong, spokesperson for the Ontario Stone, Sand and Gravel Association, whose members account for approximately 70 per cent of all aggregate extracted in the province, said some important context is missing from the group's calls.

"It's disheartening for the industry because they're working really hard to be responsible and be stewards of the land," Armstrong said. "The Not-In-My-Backyard folks put out all kinds of information that's really often times designed to scare people and then to provide misinformation."

The Blanding's turtle is listed as endangered, meaning it's a risk for extinction. The presence of the turtle can sometimes halt development or construction of a site. (Jeffie McNeil)

"Right now we're using about 160 million tons of aggregate a year based on the growth that's forecast in Ontario," she said. "We're expecting that number to approach about 190 million tons a year that we're going to need in order to meet needs of the 4 million more people that are going to be in Ontario over the next 25 years."

Armstrong also added that despite the number of licenses the government has issued for new quarries or further expansion of existing quarries, it can sometimes take 10 to 12 years before the site is ready for extraction.

She also said the aggregate industry, relatively speaking, is a clean industry.

"The biggest environmental impact of aggregate in a lot of ways is the trucks…trucking aggregate to and from the sites," she said. "And so for that reason, it's really important to be close to market, because you want to be environmentally smarter, to be close to market so that you're not generating more emissions."  

Those assurances from the industry don't sit well with Rhonda Kirby, who is part of a group fighting the expansion of a quarry near her home east of Blind River for almost a decade.

"When we got to look at the site plans and realized the scope of this project, we were pretty alarmed because it's going to take out a lot of sensitive habitat there," Kirby said.

The quarry developer, she said, is a business based out of southern Ontario, with no ties to her community.

"[We have] provincially significant wetlands, at least five species at risk," she said. "So some heavy-duty environmental impacts will be happening."

That includes damage to an ecosystem that holds one of the largest populations of Blandings' Turtles, an endangered species.

"We had two years of field study, and it's probably one of the densest populations in North America," she said. "We have the university peer reviewed and published research. So we started fighting harder to make sure that this quarry just didn't happen with this unique population with this sensitive habitat."

"There's no need for it to happen. This is about money. It's not about need anyway."