Ontario’s prime ag land and watershed under mining threat

When Ontario engineer John Lowndes explored the highlands in Southern Ontario, he decided that the $120 billion in limestone beneath the water table would be well worth the investment of $80 million to buy the farmland and begin mining it. To hell with the environment, the rural economy, or the watersheds and lives affected.

He talked to Seth Klarman of the Boston hedge fund, Baupost Group, who agreed. Though a patient investor, Klarman is no slouch. He took $27 million from four families in 1983 and in 28 years turned that into $23 billion in assets as of last November. Together, they formed the Highland Companies and began buying up the land under an eco-friendly marketing blitz.

But these farmers are no dummies and the fight is on. Take action below. ~Ed

By The Council of Canadians
July 6, 2011

ACTION ALERT: Your help needed to stop proposed mega-quarry

Back in April, we asked you to write the provincial government to demand an extension of the comment period on the proposed mega-quarry in Melancthon Township.  More than 1,800 fellow Council of Canadians members did just that, helping to convince the government to push back the deadline under the Environmental Bill of Rights.  Thank you!

Now your voice is needed once again.  We have just TWO days left to let them know what we think of the plan to dig a mega-quarry and in the process destroy thousands of acres of prime Ontario farmland and damage the headwaters of five major river systems.

ACT NOW to have your voice heard – THE DEADLINE is midnight on Sunday July 10th.

The mega-quarry has been proposed in Melancthon Township on Highway 124 just north of Shelburne. The Highland Companies (owned by a Boston hedge fund) has filed an application for a 2,400-acre aggregate mine, which would make it the largest quarry in Ontario and the second largest in North America.  This precious land is the “rooftop of Ontario” running along the border of the Niagara Escarpment.  For many months, the Council of Canadians has been working with local groups to stop this open pit mine because of the extraordinary impacts it will have on neighbouring communities, watersheds, Ontario’s food supply and the drinking water of more than one million people.

Join the fight to protect this precious land and water!

ACT NOW to have your voice heard – THE DEADLINE is midnight on Sunday July 10th.


The Highlands company started buying farmland in Melancthon several years ago, claiming they wanted to become the province’s largest potato growing operation, which made sense to local farmers as the area is well known for its particularly high quality soil and micro-climate.  About one quarter of all the potatoes eaten in the Greater Toronto Area come from there.  After many local farmers had sold their farms – some of which had been in the family for generations – the real motives of the company became apparent.  Under that rich and rare soil is a fortune in high quality limestone worth upwards of eight billion dollars. The company now owns around 8,000 acres of land and has applied for permission to mine 2,400 acres which would make it the second largest quarry in North America. There is little doubt that they intend to excavate the entire 8,000+ acres. To do so, Highland will strip off all that precious soil then blast their way down more than 200 feet BELOW the water table.

From the area around the proposed mine site spring the headwaters of river systems that are important drinking water sources for more than one million people downstream.  The Nottawasaga River, the Grand River and the Pine River systems will all be threatened by the mine’s 600 million litre per day dewatering pumps.  Massive amounts of toxic demolition explosives will be used to smash the limestone and hundreds of dump trucks per hour will enter and leave the site – 24 hours a day, 360 days per year.  The company rightly points out that this is all allowable under Ontario’s aggregate extraction laws but the problem is that those laws couldn’t be more favourable to the industry or more rigged against communities that want to protect their water.


Support our allies: We have been working with the North Dufferin Agricultural & Community Taskforce (NDACT) and the Citizen’s Alliance for a Sustainable Environment (CAUSE)  and we ask you to consider supporting them as well.  Please visit their websites:  www.ndact.com and www.citizensalliance.ca.

Click here before the end of the day on Sunday July 10th (midnight) to make your comment on the Environmental Bill of Rights Registry.

Every comment counts!  You can write as much or as little as you like, but please voice your objection to the mega-quarry.

If you get a message saying their system is busy, please continue trying or send your comment as an email to craig.laing@MNR.gov.on.ca and please copy us at webmaster@canadians.org.

Share with your friends on facebook.

If you have any questions about comment process or the quarry proposal, contact Mark Calzavara, Ontario Regional Organizer for the Council of Canadians, at mark@canadians.org or 1-800-208-7156.

Thank you!  Your renewed attention and support will once again make an important difference in this campaign.

Sample letter:

Mr Craig Laing, Aggregate Resources Officer Ontario
Ministry of Natural Resources
2284 Nursery Road Midhurst, Ontario L0L 1X0

Objection to Highland Companies Mega Quarry Application EBR 011‐2864

Dear Mr Laing,

I am writing to you to express my opposition to the proposed mega-quarry in Melanchthon Township.  I have great concerns about the impact this quarry will have on the environment of the area, particularly on water quality, and the harm it will cause to the local community and their way of life. I feel that this proposed quarry is in no way a sustainable development.

The proposed massive 2,316‐acre open pit limestone quarry would border the Niagara Escarpment, a UNESCO Biosphere Reserve, destroy productive farmland, pollute the air, given the proposed hundreds of 40‐ton trucks that will travel the local roads every day, and threaten the area’s water.  The headwaters of several important river systems that provide drinking water for more than one million people lie beneath or next to the proposed quarry.

The quarry would blast 60 meters (deeper than Niagara Falls) beneath the water table and extract approximately 600 million litres of water every day. Highland Companies plans to pump that water, collected daily on the open pit mine floor, and likely now contaminated with blasting residue and diesel fuels, back into the wells around the site. There is a high potential for damage to the environment, particularly the water supplies of the region.

It is imperative that we who are entrusted with the preservation of these wonderful natural spaces for future generations take our role very seriously. I strongly urge your ministry to deny Highland Companies the permit to construct a mega quarry in this area and to act as a steward of this land and water now and for all time.

Yours sincerely,


Background info:

High Stakes in the High County, by Tim Shuff, In the Hills Magazine, 15 Sept. 2009.

Seth Klarman Buys Land Worth $120 Billion for $80 Million, by Jacob Wolinsky, Guru Focus, 24 April 2011.

Video: Unicamp is a beautiful campground nestled at the base of the Niagara escarpment near Honeywood, Ontario. Michael Moon’s original photography from camp are wedded to his self-produced instrumental music in this serenely meditative collection of Unicamp memories.

3 responses to “Ontario’s prime ag land and watershed under mining threat

  1. Thank you for your coverage of this issue. I would like to note that due to the Aggregate Resources Act the quarry is not subject to an environmental assessment. The first and foremost comment on the EBR by your readers should be to request a full environmental assessment of Highland’s proposal before any licence or permits are approved.

    • Excellent feedback, Donna. Let’s hope any readers follow up with that.

      even tho they say the comment period is over (now), people have all the say in this. How much they write their local media and representatives, on top of their protests, can have a much bigger impact than some arbitrary window set up by the regulators.

    • Don't Trust E.A.'s

      Please don’t rely on an Environmental Assessment to stop this from happening. Gord Miller, Environmental Commissioner of Ontario, has a not-so-funny joke about what E.A. really stands for : Expedited Approval. The consulting firms hired to perform E.A’s seem to be people willing to take the blame as long as they are paid handsomely to approve whatever the government, and developers, want. There has to be another way to stop this, I hope there is, because an E.A will NOT do it. Look at the York Region Big Sewer Pipe and the E.A’s that approved it for just one example.

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