Quarry decision produces winners and losers 0
CLEARVIEW TWP. — Environmental and citizen groups are applauding a decision by the Niagara Escarpment Commission to challenge the approval of a quarry near the village of Duntroon.
But for Walker vice-president Ken Lucyshyn, he was on the road early Wednesday morning to his company's quarry operation, preparing to tell 22 Walker Aggregate employees their jobs were on the line.
Last Thursday, the commission, in a 9-3 vote, opted to file a judicial review of the Consolidated Board decision allowing Walker Aggregates to expand its quarry operation.
“Ontarians don't want a mega-quarry that puts our land, water and wildlife at risk, for the benefit of few.” said Dr. Rick Smith, Executive Director of Environmental Defence, in a news release issued Monday. "I'm happy to see that the NEC recognizes this quarry in this location is a mistake."
Walker Aggregates presently operates a quarry on the south side of County Road 91, and has plans to expand to the north side.
The board made its decision in June. Walker's application was to excavate more than 44 million tonnes of material from the site over a 40-year period.
"It's extremely disappointing to me," said Lucyshyn. "I'm perplexed."
Lucyshyn said his company has spent the last 10 years studying the site, from its hydrology, to the animal and tree species; the site is habitat to the Bobolink, and has a stand of Butternut trees and a colony of American Hart's Tongue Fern — all of which are endangered.
"We had a good understanding of the natural environment, and we were confident a quarry could work at that site," he said. "This has been a very thorough process, and very expensive."
Not only has it been expensive to the company, it has also been expensive to taxpayers, said Lucyshyn, who attended last Thursday's NEC meeting and says he couldn't believe the "disregard" for tax dollars.
In a report to the commission prepared by the Lisa Grbinicek, a senior strategic advisor to the NEC, and presented on Thursday, concern was expressed "to the manner in which the (Niagara Escarpment Plan) provisions have been regarded by the (joint board).
"The concern and issue is not with respect to the (board) preferring the evidence and opinions of the witnesses for the applicant, but rather that in staff's opinion, the (board) appears to disregard key terms and objectives of the NEP related to the protection of natural features and areas on the basis that they are not defined… and defer to the Provincial Policy Statement in making their findings," Grbinicek wrote.
"(Thursday's) vote was a milestone; it's evident that the commission stands firmly behind the NEP," Clearview Community Coalition chair Janet Gilham wrote in a news release issued Monday.
Clearview Community Coalition was one of the parties to the Joint Board hearings, in opposition to Walker's application.
“In all my time in government and as an advocate, the Walker decision caused me the greatest concern for the health of the Niagara Escarpment UNESCO Biosphere Reserve,” said Ruth Grier, former Ontario Minister of the Environment and Member of the Clearview Community Coalition (CCC). “I commend the Commissioners for their vote to defend the Niagara Escarpment, one of Ontario’s truly unique environmental features.”
Gilham said the coalition is now determining how to support the NEC's application for a judicial review of the decision.
NEC manager Ken Whitbread said the application for a judicial review of the decision is a different process than in the past, when a request to overturn a joint board decision would have gone to the provincial cabinet.
The commission's request, he said, is buoyed by the dissenting viewpoint of panel member Robert Wright, who wrote his two colleagues on the joint board failed to correctly analyze Walker's application through the lens of the statutory provisions of the (Niagara Escarpment Plan Development Act) and the policies of the NEP."
"It was a strong dissenting opinion, and there a number of points of law and policy (the commission) thought should be clarified," said Whitbread.
The judicial review process could take upwards of six months; depending on the ruling of the court, the joint board decision could be upheld or overturned. There is also a very outside chance the court could also modify the board's decision.
If any party does not agree with the court's ruling, an application for leave to appeal the ruling could be filed.
Lucyshyn said while some of the legwork needed to move on to the site could still take place — Walker is required to complete an adaptive management plan for the site, and update the site plan based on the ruling of the board — it still leaves the continued employment of people working at the existing quarry up in the air.
"This whole thing just represents more delays," he said. "We are running out of rock (at the existing quarry), and we were down to the fine line where nobody's job would have been at stake.
"The delays are causing uncertainty for our employees and their families… I have to tell them (on Wednesday) what we're trying to do, but I also have to tell them we can't guarantee that they will be working continuously, and that there will be layoffs."
Whitbread said a court ruling to overturn the joint board's decision could also result in a series of unknowns, and could even spark a second joint board hearing.
"This is a very unique situation, especially when you have a dissenting opinion that was so powerful," said Whitbread. "The commission believes there were errors made in law, and the only way to correct or test that is through the courts."