Last Friday, I took a tour of North Dumfries with the Waterloo Federation of Agriculture. Much to my surprise, not only agriculture was on the agenda. We also toured some “rehabilitated” gravel pits.
First let me say that we need gravel. It is used to build houses, stores and roads. Gravel was used to make the 401 in 1963 and we saw the remains of the pit where the gravel came from, now covered in corn. The problem with this pit and others, according to the WFA, is that the process removes the topsoil,then digs out the gravel. The company is supposed to rehabilitate the land back to agricultural land but in fact it cannot be rehabilitated or is not rehabilitated. For example, the former pit we saw from 1963.
The land in North Dumfries is some of the best agricultural land in the province because it sits atop gravel and is therefore well drained. The topsoil is excellent. But the extraction process scrapes off the topsoil and removes the gravel. The company is supposed to put everything back but there is a hole where the gravel was and the top soil is not returned. The corn in the field now used for farming is smaller and stunted compared to spots that have never had the gravel removed. The farmer is working and has worked for years with manure and crop rotation with hay and alfalfa to rehabilitate the soil. We also saw areas were the gravel pit wasn’t rehabilitated at all and another spot that had been turned into a golf course. A golf course is fine, but good agriculture land is forever out of production.
One solution that seems to be working is a farm where the farmer did not sell his land to the gravel company but only rented it. The farm family keeps a close eye on the operation and makes sure that a field where the gravel is removed is returned almost completely to agricultural land. It should be noted that large sections of North Dumfries farmland are designated by the province as areas of gravel extraction. North Dumfries also includes environmentally significant lands and sensitive water recharge.
This leads to the problem the Region is having with the province. The province does not like our proposals to deal with gravel, as noted in the June report on the Regional Official Plan. Everything was OK with the province except for this section:
The Province has recommended two significant modifications to the ROP that are inconsistent with the policy direction as adopted by Regional Council. More specifically, the Province is proposing modifications that would:
Permit mineral aggregate extraction within the two year time of travel in Wellhead Protection within Wellhead Protection Areas.
Permit manufacturing of asphalt materials associated with mineral aggregate operations
The Region does not want this to happen as most of the Region’s water comes through groundwater filtered by gravel. We are one of the few areas in the province that gets its water from groundwater.
When it comes to gravel, the province of Ontario, environmentally progressive in other ways, still seems stuck in the early 19th century, when mineral extraction was King.