The Inside Agenda Blog

No Mega Quarry After All

by Steve Paikin Thursday November 22, 2012

It was a classic, modern-day problem.

We need aggregate to build roads for our increasingly urban society. And we want to dig for that aggregate as close to market as possible, to keep the price as low as possible. 

But one of the best areas to dig for that aggregate was in some of the most pristine, beautiful farming areas of the province: Melancthon Township near Collingwood, about a two hours' drive north of Toronto.  And the locals were vehemently opposed to the plan. They insisted that digging a 30-storey deep pit for aggregate -- with the hundreds of trucks per day that would come into the community -- was completely inconsistent with the other land use in the area.

Carl Cosack, foreground, led a group called NDACT (North Dufferin Agricultural and Community Taskforce) fighting the mega quarry.

What to do?

The company, Highland Farms, started assembling land. The locals, mostly farmers, set up a protest group to oppose the effort. Some residents turned down massive amounts of money and financial security to prevent Highland from assembling the property they wanted.

Yesterday, this drama came to an end when, after four years, Highland Farms waived the white flag. They withdrew their application for the aggregate quarry.

These "Stop the Mega Quarry" signs were everywhere, including in downtown Toronto. Getting Toronto foodies involved in the fight was a brilliant move by the locals.

The little guys won.

"It is an unbelievable ending to this remarkable fight," one of those leading the fight emailed me today. "Scrappy group of ordinary folks take on the ninth-largest hedge fund in the world, its controversial [public relations] firm and a mega quarry ... and win!"

Highland claimed it only wanted to grow potatoes. A different plan then emerged.

This past summer, I took a tour of Melancthon Township, courtesy of some of the locals. I avoided coming to a conclusion about this dispute. I just wanted to see the area.

But it did seem next to impossible for the company to make good on its claim that digging for aggregate would in no way adversely affect the other land-use activities in the area. The wind was blowing quite fiercely the entire time I was there. It seemed unlikely that digging for aggregate wouldn't have sent dust blowing in every direction, harming the crops and water supply.

Now, thankfully for the residents, they won't have to find out.

Here are some of the pictures and clips from that day:

Cosack, right, gave yours truly the horseback tour this past summer.

Some of Ontario's best brussels sprouts come from Bill French's farm in Melancthon Township.

The locals also feared their water supply would be destroyed by digging for aggregate.

Part of the water supply that local residents depend on.

Carl Cosack said he was prepared to spend a decade fighting Highland Farms. Now he won't have to.

Below are some other clips from my visit.

Carl Cosack talks about the effort required to win this fight:

Cosack outlines the area affected:

Farmer Ralph Armstrong talks about the importance of the water supply. The Armstrong family has farmed the same acreage of land since 1853. Highland tried to buy their land seven times, and each time the family refused.

Bill French talks about how a quarry would affect his farmland. He also repeatedly refused Highland's offer to sell. Note how windy it is: