«Rehabilitation of Pits and Quarries under Ontario’s Aggregate Resources Act Part One: The Framework In the “Comprehensive Government Response to ...»
Rehabilitation of Pits and Quarries under
Ontario’s Aggregate Resources Act
Part One: The Framework
In the “Comprehensive Government Response to Standing
Committee on General Government’s Report on the Review of
the Aggregate Resources Act” of February 2014, it is noted that:
The rehabilitation of pits and quarries is an important
component of the Aggregate Resources Act.
• There are some excellent examples of rehabilitation
that is being done at pit and quarry sites, and the operators of those sites are to be commended for their efforts.
• We also recognize there is room for improvement. Good rehabilitation practices should be the standard for every pit and quarry site.
• We already have a framework in place that provides rehabilitation requirements for every site that is regulated under the Act. The Act even goes beyond regulated sites when it comes to rehabilitation, establishing funds through the Aggregate Resources Trust to provide for the rehabilitation of legacy sites that were abandoned before they were required to obtain a licence under the Act.
Part Two: The Challenges for Ontario There are several challenges facing Ontario as regards the rehabilitation of pits and quarries, which include
those mentioned above:
The abandoned pits and quarries which precede the introduction of the Pits and Quarries Act means that legacy costs are being borne now by various levels of government as well as private industry.
Similarly, the popular myth of grandfathering means that some operational pits and quarries would not be approved under today’s regulations without rehabilitation plans.
Pits and quarries awaiting rehabilitation pose safety risks to the public, as well as safety concerns to their owners.
Rehabilitation is delayed by any potential other uses of the pits, such as recycling which introduces industrial uses into extraction sites, which alters interim uses into permanent uses.
Delays to progressive and final rehabilitation seem frequent and common. License surrender or revocation is infrequent even when pits have been inactive for long periods.
Rehabilitation may introduce non-native soils, elements or plant species into environments Open pits and quarries, active or awaiting rehabilitation, represent a threat to ground water quality and safety as they allow surface water runoff into or in proximity to ground water.
Soil science suggests that the return of overburden and top soil does not re-establish soil fertility to the levels it previously had.
Rehabilitation of former agriculturallands to industrial, recreational or residential uses takes land out of food-production, thus impacting a significant economic activity as well as food security. Nor are these processes of conversion easy or cheap.
Thanks to “Food and Water First we are “reminded of the value of Ontario's farmland to our $34-billion agri-food sector and the 700,000 people it employs”.
Rehabilitation plans for lands where aggregate extraction has taken place, mean depressions which often contain lakes. These pose a financial burden on municipalities in which they occur as they lower the taxes collected at the same time as extraction levies disappear. Progressive rehabilitation also may present a tax burden on municipalities as rates change from industrial to farmland, for instance.
A Legacy of Abandoned Pits and Quarries
In 1979, A.G. McLellan, S.E. Yundt and M.L. Dorfman produced a report on “Quarries in Ontario: A Program for their Rehabilitation” for the Ministry of Natural Resources and the Region of Waterloo. According to its authors, “The legacy of land made derelict or otherwise left abandoned by the removal of mineral aggregates (sand, gravel and crushed stone) grew rapidly during the economically active 1960's in Ontario. The Ontario Government as a response to this and other problems enacted legislation to control the aggregate industry (The Pits and Quarries Control Act) in 1971. This act, however, was not retroactive and much of our past legacy remains”. Their recommendations, that the current industry fund the costs of rehabilitation which preceded regulation results in legacy costs for Ontario at all levels, as public entities account for over 60% of the sales of aggregate. As a result, 10% of levies were ascribed to rehabilitation funds.
According to The Ontario Aggregate Resources Corporation, “When the ARA was put into effect, the aggregate industry represented by the now Ontario Stone Sand & Gravel Association (formerly the Aggregate Producers Association of Ontario) agreed that $0.005 per tonne of licence fees payable would be dedicated to a program having the purpose of rehabilitating these former extraction sites. Based on recent levels of extraction in Ontario, an approximate amount of $400,000 to $600,000 is made available on an annual basis for this purpose. These monies are held in a dedicated account known as the Abandoned Pits & Quarries Rehabilitation Fund. In addition to the rehabilitation of abandoned pits and quarries, monies from the fund also support research into ways and means of undertaking new and creative approaches to rehabilitation in the often harsh environments created in post extraction sites”. The 2400 sites which TOARC lists as “removed from the active inventory” reduce the financial commitment but their removal does not alleviate environmental and water safety concerns, nor those of the reduction of available agricultural land.
According to the office of the Environmental Commissioner of Ontario, “In November 2003, the ECO received an application arguing that Ontario’s pits and quarries are not being adequately rehabilitated by the aggregate industry, and requesting a review of relevant sections of the Aggregate Resources Act (ARA). The applicants estimated that between 1992 and 2001, approximately 6,000 hectares were dug up to extract aggregates – without the rehabilitation required under the ARA. … The applicants also noted that an estimated 6,500 aggregate sites had been abandoned (excavated without rehabilitation) as of 1990. Since industry had, on average, rehabilitated only 13 such sites per year, the applicants estimated that it could take 489 years to get through the backlog.” Similarly the ECO notes that “The high cost of rehabilitating worked-out pits and quarries – an estimated average cost of $12,495 per hectare – was also raised by the applicants. They suggested that Ontario’s total rehabilitation costs could amount to $74 million per decade, and asked, rhetorically, “When will this rehabilitation take place? Who will pay for it? Will this rate of deficit continue in the future?” In the past, rehabilitation security deposits had been used by the province to guarantee rehabilitation work; but the Ontario government dismantled this system in the late 1990s, and returned approximately $49 million directly to aggregate operators”. This is in sharp contrast to the TOARC assertion that levies of less than ½ million $ are effective in rehabilitating pits and quarries.
Because the legislation in 1979 and then the ARA did not deal with pits and quarries which had no rehabilitation requirements, those from before The Pits and Quarries Control Act, grandfathered pits remain a problem. “One key barrier to adequate rehabilitation is the large number of old licences that were grandparented when the ARA was enacted, effectively shielding them from rehabilitation requirements, and forcing ministry staff to use time-consuming site plan amendments on a case-by-case basis. These site plan amendments can be stalled by appeals to the Ontario Municipal Board, adding further challenges for MNR’s over-extended aggregate staff” says the ECO report “Our Cratered Landscape”.
American research by GeoScience News and Information cites a large number of risks associated with abandoned quarries, resulting in annual deaths of between 20 and 30 individuals per year. Those result from hazards which result in drowning: “Quarries are extremely dangerous places to swim. Steep drop-offs, deep water, sharp rocks, flooded equipment, submerged wire and industrial waste can make swimming risky”.
Water temperature poses more risk: “Another risk factor is the very cold water. Many quarry operations excavate to depths below the water table and use pumps to keep the mine dry while it is in operation. When mining stops, the pumps are turned off and the quarry floods by the inflow of cold ground water. This ground water inflow can keep the quarry water very cold even in late summer. Jumping or falling into cold water can be fatal - even for a young healthy person” Citing the National Institute of Health on how a body responds to sudden immersion in cold water, GeoScience continues. “A fall in skin temperature elicits a powerful cardiorespiratory response, termed "cold shock," comprising an initial gasp, hypertension, and hyperventilation despite a profound hypocapnia. [...] The respiratory responses to skin cooling override both conscious and other autonomic respiratory controls and may act as a precursor to drowning”.
Interim Uses Into Permanent Land Uses In a written communication regarding the conversion of former farmland to an industrial site, Diane Schwier, Aggregate Technical Specialist, at the Guelph office of the Ontario Ministry of Natural Resources states that an applicant could ask for permission to convert interim extraction sites into permanent industrial sites by means of a request for an amendment. She says “As would be the case with any landowner, Angbar Construction and Development Inc. can make application to the Township of North Dumfries to amend the zoning by-law to permit industrial development on their property. If they receive approval (i.e. Draft Plan of Subdivision), they would then need to make application under the ARA to amend their final rehabilitation plan from agriculture to industrial development. This is a major site plan amendment with circulation to the upper and lower tier municipality and posting on the Environmental Registry. If the amendment is approved the Draft Plan of Subdivision then becomes their final rehab plan. At that time, the MNR surrenders the licence and the Township then becomes responsible for ensuring development takes place according to the approved Draft Plan of Subdivision. If they are not successful in rezoning the land then the site must be rehabilitated back to agriculture”.
In many places, the use of pits and quarries to store and reprocess asphalt, concrete and other forms of aggregate is under discussion, happening despite no sanction, or awaiting approval. This is an extreme example of interim permissions becoming permanent industrial sites both because of the risks to the environment and human health impacts and to the challenge it presents to regulation. In addition to concerns about the leakage of compounds from aggregate into water tables or land, there is the issue of volatility and dust in the air. The State of New Hampshire identifies several elements whose inhalation is not recommended.
While the use of industrial buildings for industrial purposes, including the processing of asphalt and cement waste, would seem an ideal, the conversion of pits and quarries to permanent industrial sites associated with “recycled aggregate” is problematic for several reasons. Firstly, it violates the intent of the original site plan which was for interim use and thus a covenant with the neighbours and community. Secondly, because the nature of aggregate removed from built structures is very different from virgin aggregate, this permanent use means permanent risk. Recycled asphalt contains many chemicals added to it. Because storing and processing of waste aggregate for recycling involves a high risk of releasing heavy metals, concentrated contaminants in fly ash, oil products, fibre content, spills, paint and coatings, biological content, etc., these should not be in open air, nor in proximity to ground or surface water. To contemplate them in short term is dangerous; in the long term is certain health impact.
Aggregate lands are in other cases converted to residential uses. This produces seemingly desirable homes, often on large lots with water features in the neighbourhood. If spring-fed and adequately drained, these can be enjoyable. Conversely, however, the urban sprawl they represent comes at a high cost to municipalities in terms of providing and maintaining services for them. This contradicts the planning priority of the Ontario government for intensification and densification of cities, towns and villages and reduces available lands for recreation and agriculture. The relationship between housing and other construction and aggregate extraction is complex. Rock and stone are significant in the construction of homes while the places where they are being extracted are often considered undesirable near a home. Yet, the places where extraction has occurred can be a realtor’s or a homeowner’s dream. Lowered elevations combined with higher water tables, however, could result in a homeowner’s nightmare of water.
It is interesting to note that pits and quarries can have interim recreational uses too. In “Rock to Road” magazine, a journal for aggregate and road-building industry members, Treena Hein enthuses, without apparent irony, about the barren, other-worldly qualities of a gravel pit for a film set in an era when the world
is no longer habitable and humans flee to other galaxies. She describes the filming of “Defiance” as follows: