Tri-party committee hears industry concerns.
By Andrew Macklin
Across four days at the start of May, the Ontario Government’s Standing
Committee on General Government held hearings to review the province’s
Aggregate Resources Act.
Across four days at the start of May, the Ontario Government’s Standing Committee on General Government held hearings to review the province’s Aggregate Resources Act. The Act, established in 1990, is the successor to the Pits and Quarries Control Act, originally established in the province in 1971. The Aggregate Resources Act was last modified in 2007.
Currently, the Act provides the legislative processes that aggregate producers must follow in order to have licensed operations in the province of Ontario. The Liberal minority government had promised a review of the Act during their 2011 election campaign.
With 30 presentations coming before the hearings, and many others offering written submissions, the committee was given a strong overview of the concerns of everyone affected both directly, and indirectly, by the aggregates industry.
On the industry side, several of the organizations that presented stressed the issues surrounding the approval processes laid out in the Act, including OSSGA CEO Moreen Miller.
“OSSGA believes that the licensing procedure has become too confusing, complex and onerous for opponents, proponents and other community members interested in following an application through the process,” said Miller. “People lose faith in the process when it becomes too complex.”
There were also serious concerns about access to aggregate resources in Ontario. Several Ontario companies have faced objections to site plans from community organizations, as well as municipal and provincial government officials, that have caused developments to be delayed several years or indefinitely. These delays resulted in growing fears over an unstable business model for aggregate businesses operating in Ontario.
“The government must take action to enhance business certainty and ensure access to local aggregates so that we can remain sufficiently competitive to retain and grow investment in Ontario,” said Cement Association of Canada president Michael McSweeney. “Aggregates are a strategic commodity in Ontario. We must protect and manage these important resources.”
While industry officials focused on changes to the Act that would provide for greater simplicity and transparency to assist aggregate operations’ ability to do good business, several groups lobbied for increased environmental protections within the Act. CONE, the Coalition on the Niagara Escarpment, insisted that there is a need to stop allowing for aggregate extraction below the water table.
“The U.S. Clean Water Act is changing aggregate extraction and U.S. states are enforcing ‘no subwater table extraction,’” stated CONE President Robert Patrick. “Why are we behind? This ‘no extraction below the water table’ provision must be addressed and must be included in the revisions to the Aggregate Resources Act.”
In addition to water issues, there was also concern expressed over the need to consider the value of the soil being displaced by aggregate operations. Those concerns were expressed in a letter sent by the Ontario Federation of Agriculture.
“Most aggregate resources are extracted from Ontario’s rural areas and a lot of that from under good farmland,” said Keith Currie, an executive member of the OFA. “Extraction of aggregates also often requires digging below the water table, and can put our groundwater resource at risk. And most importantly, it has an effect on our most precious renewable resource: our soil.”
Another significant talking point throughout the hearings was the need for a set of industry standards for the aggregate industry, in addition to the provincial regulations. Those standards are already being approached by two provincial organizations: the Aggregate Forum of Ontario and SERA (Socially and Environmentally Responsible Aggregate). SERA executive director Lorne Johnson explained the value of having a voluntary set of standards for the industry to follow.
“Voluntary standards can provide incentives for individual companies that are willing to go above and beyond regulatory requirements,” said Johnson. “In my experience, voluntary standards initiatives can also be helpful by providing a space for disparate interests to try to resolve their issues in a way that is unencumbered by potential policy outcomes that are at stake whenever government convenes these discussions.”
One issue that most presenters agreed on was the need for an increase in the use of recycled aggregates in the province. Ontario lags behind other provinces and countries in the use of recycled aggregate product. The increased usage could both meet the needs for additional aggregate resources, and require less extraction from pits and quarries across the province. According to OSSGA CEO Moreen Miller, that solution can be found, in part, through increased cooperation from municipalities.
“We need to be more engaged with our municipal partners,” said Miller. “But they need to understand that it is no longer acceptable to say no to virgin aggregate, to new aggregate sources, and also say no to recycled products.
We’re finding that is occurring – not everywhere, but with a regularity that we would like to see reduced.”
The Committee will now decide whether to propose changes to the Act, or provide time for more input from additional community stakeholders across the province. Visit our website at www.rocktoroad.com for updates.