Here's the Latest on Plans to Cut Thousands of Trees in Burlington

Last November there was a widely attended public meeting concerning a proposal by Meridian Brick, which operates the Aldershot quarry in Burlington, to cut down some 9,000 trees near residential areas in order to expand their commercial shale operations.

Needless to say, that decision was meant with heavy resistance from people living in the Tyandaga neighbourhood, and a citizens group, the Tyandaga Environmental Coalition (TEC) have been quite active and vocal about their problems and concerns over Meridian’s plans.

To recap, here is an aerial bird’s eye view of the site location in conjunction with the location of the Tyandaga community.

The previous meeting was contentious in that the expert panel that Meridian assembled to explain to residents what was happening didn’t really do a good job in outlining simple things like a timetable of when they were planning to cut trees down. What’s more, residents were incensed that they were planning to cut before environmental studies were due back on what impact that tree cutting would have.

Since then, TEC had another meeting in January with Mayor Rick Goldring, Coun. Rick Craven, Burlington MPP Eleanor McMahon, Meridian, as well as staff from the Ministry of the Environment and Climate Change (MOECC), Ministry of Natural Resources and Forestry (MNRF), Conservation Halton and Burlington Green.

In their update report, TEC said they were partially successful in having the noise study re-evaluated because the Meridian Quarry Operational Plan had changed and the conclusions resulting from the theoretical noise study were very dependent on the accuracy of the plan.


Here is a recap on some of the continuing issues that TEC have with Meridian:

Impact on human health and well being

The TEC raised concerns over the danger of cancer being caused by the quarrying dust presenting to the immediate area. Specifically, over airborne emissions of crystalline silica and particulate matter that is respirable, inhalable and predicted to be less than accepted health-based benchmarks. They looked at this through a lens ranging between a period of six to twenty five years.

They also allege that by excavating within a 1/2 of a football field (50 m) from Westhaven Drive, combined with easterly winds unaccounted for, Aldershot is underplaying the impact from the dust residents will continuously inhale and deal with on a daily basis.TEC is calling for more direct and active participation by Environment and Natural Resources Ministries, and the City of Burlington, to deal with ‘very real health concerns’, and not rely on ‘self serving’ information from Meridian, as it was paid for and supplied by the aggregate operators only.

Meridian states in their own independent dust study, “The preliminary results are that the cumulative health risks to residents at all receptor locations are negligible,” said Glenn Ferguson, Senior Environmental Health Scientist with Intrinsik and Adjunct Professor in the School for Public Health and Health Systems and lecturer on Environmental Toxicology at the University of Waterloo who conducted the human health risk assessment.

That assessment applied to both levels of dust and levels of silica - and even those levels, according to Ajay Madan of Pinchin, will fall under guidelines set by the Province. Madan has over a dozen years of experience in environmental consulting preparing air quality assessments for Environmental Compliance Approvals (ECAs) and air quality studies.

Destruction of invaluable green space / Removal of natural greenbelt heritage

As seen in the above map, the area in question buttresses green space that stands between the quarry and the residential neighbourhood. Meridian invoked a 44 year old license under the defunct Pits and Quarries Act of 1972, which was replaced by the Aggregate Resources Act in 1990.

A Westhaven Drive resident wrote to McMahon on November 25 last year that Meridian’s plans were akin to medical malpractice if the doctor had used methods dating back decades ago instead of modern day treatments.

The situation we have here is the equivalent of social and environmental malpractice. If a quarry operator were to apply to mine the area of the East Cell today, it would be denied based on current environmental and medical knowledge. Why then do we allow this industrial quarry operation to take place immediately adjacent to a residential area because a company was given a permit 45 years ago when conditions were very much different?” the resident said in the letter.

Lack of engagement with the Indigenous and Metis communities

In our current climate, people have been made more sensitive to the plight of Indigenous peoples when it comes to land recognition. Based on TEC’s account, however, the local MP in Burlington was less than helpful when it came to showing sensitivity to Indigenous communities surrounding the Meridian issue.

TEC said they met with MP Karina Gould, also a federal cabinet minister in charge of Democratic Institutions, in February to introduce themselves and explain their position with the “urban quarry” and pointing out the federal relevance, particularly:

  • Meridian is an American / Australian owned company doing business in Canada, therefore NAFTA applies.

  • Indigenous and Metis affairs fall under federal jurisdiction, such as “Duty to Consent”.

  • Environment and climate change is a federal matter, as outlined under COP 21.

By their account, Minister Gould was not very helpful, suggesting this was not a federal matter and offering no additional support. The group also noted that Gould had attended Meridian’s first meeting back in September of 2015, and was aware of this issues for several years now.

Gould provided this response to inhalton.com regarding her meeting with TEC:

In January, I had a productive meeting with members of the TEC when they visited my Burlington office. While I understand and appreciate their concerns about this project, jurisdiction for licensing and regulation of aggregates (clay quarries) resides with the province.”

It was suggested in the meeting that Chapter 11 of NAFTA made this concern a matter of federal jurisdiction. Chapter 11 protects investors from NAFTA countries by ensuring that they receive the same treatment given to domestic actors with respect to their investments, and provides a dispute mechanism when investors from a NAFTA country are breaching these obligations.”

After ensuring they were also speaking to the appropriate representatives with the province, city, and company, I said I look forward to hearing about the results of their engagements.”

What Meridian is saying

A quick look on their website says Meridian is developing a “progressive rehabilitation” plan for the East cell, gradually restoring it to natural slopes and forest. The rehabilitation plan will see the new slopes grassed, and new trees will be planted.

By the time the rehabilitation plan is complete, the East site will be restored to a fully treed and forested landscape. Watercourses and stormwater management ponds will also be rehabilitated into habitats which represent the local ecosystem.

Overall, Meridian’s rehabilitation plan for the Centre and East quarry covers 17.9 hectares of land, with more than 29,000 trees planted. They also incorporated the Greenbelt Plan’s rehabilitation requirements into the new Site Plan amendment for the Aldershot Quarry system; the plan was approved in 2010. Meridian outlined other measured responses on their noise mitigation procedures and protecting species at risk.


What McMahon is saying

In an emailed statement to inhalton.com, McMahon discussed the Meridian issue at length and the following is a condensed version of her statement for purposes of clarity:

Meridian Brick’s Licence

The Aldershot Quarry has been fully licensed for more than 40 years and the Ministry of Natural Resources and Forestry confirmed that it regularly reviews the Aldershot Quarry plans and the requirements of Meridian Brick’s operating licence. This is to ensure its licence adheres to the Aggregate Resource Act (ARA) and is in compliance with all of the required regulations.

Regardless of when any licence is issued, companies are required to comply with existing legislation and must adhere to all provincial government monitoring by oversight ministries as well as the rules established on the approved site plan, as well as licence conditions.

Scoped-review: Species at Risk and 2015 Noise Study

MNRF received an application for review of Meridian Brick’s licence and site plan under Part IV of the Environmental Bill of Rights (EBR) from the Environmental Commissioner of Ontario on November 22, 2017. I was very supportive of this application, submitted by residents and encouraged their efforts. As a result, I am now working with relevant
Ministry staff to ensure that the results of the EBR submission are completed in a timely manner.

As a result of the evidence in the application, the Ministry is currently conducting a scoped-review of the licence and site plan, focusing on the species protected under the Endangered Species Act and the mitigation measures identified in a 2015 Noise Study, prepared by Meridian. The scoped review means that the Ministry has decided to focus
in on these particular areas for its review. The noise study has been reviewed by MOECC and results have been provided to MNRF for analysis. The review conducted by MNRF, that is focused on endangered species, will continue in spring 2018 with results expected in the fall.

In the meantime, Meridian Brick is working with Conservation Halton to address any at risk species that may be found on the site. Meridian Brick must meet all of the requirements under the Endangered Species Act and has retained consultants to assess its impact.

Dust Studies

At the request of residents, I have asked MOECC officials to undertake a review of the dust studies prepared by Meridian Brick to ensure that the required guidelines are met. The Ministry has submitted its review of the dust studies to the MONRF for analysis. I am told the results are expected very shortly and I am in frequent communication with MNRF to ensure they are completed and released expectedly.

Aldershot Quarry’s existing site plans require that dust generated from the operation be mitigated on-site. This includes the application of water or other approved dust suppressants to stockpiles, haul routes and active extraction areas, as needed. Additionally, Meridian Brick must install dust monitoring stations before extraction and
take daily measurement when in operation, under the supervision of a qualified dust expert.

The west and central cells have been in operation for a long time and to-date, there have not been any dust complaints filed with the Ministry.

Rehabilitation and The Greenbelt Plan

Aggregate extraction of the site is an interim land use. When extraction is complete, the land will be protected by The Greenbelt Plan and Meridian Brick is required to rehabilitate the site. Meridian will be removing trees and overburden in the east cell in a six-stage process; the final stage is estimated to occur over 15 years. During this time,
reforestation and rehabilitation will be ongoing in the depleted cells.

The removal of seven trees was required to prepare the land, and protect at-risk species. Meridian will be installing fencing to prevent any at-risk animal species from entering the site and endangered plant species will be transplanted to this protected area, under the supervision and with the assistance of the Halton Region Conservation
Authority.

Residents have requested a regulation to be issued under the Planning Act to establish a Minister’s Zoning Order prohibiting future industrial land uses of the east cell of the Aldershot Quarry. The lands are currently designated and zoned for extraction in the City of Burlington’s Official Plan and Zoning Bylaw. Where a lawful use of the property is
being carried on, a Ministerial Zoning Order would not prohibit the current use of the land, because the use would be recognized as legal non-conforming.

Keeping our communities vibrant and safe includes an effective regulatory environment. MNRF and MOECC continue to provide necessary oversight to ensure Meridian Brick complies with its licence requirements and existing legislation.

In the context of Meridian’s work, and on behalf of residents, I will continue to ensure they get the facts and the information they need and have asked for, I will continue to ensure that Meridian conducts its work in a safe manner, that it complies with provincial law and remains opens and transparent in its communication with residents.

I will continue to stay proactive and up-to-date in terms of any developments at the Aldershot Quarry and ensure the concerns of residents are heard. I will continue to ensure residents and my colleagues at the municipal level have access to the information they need from provincial ministries, and I will work diligently with municipal staff on residents’ behalf.


Based on McMahon’s comments, it seems after the January meeting the minister took a more proactive approach to the matter at hand, although it is highly doubtful that residents would take anything Meridian has to say on their word alone without more provincial oversight and approval.

The City of Burlington recently partnered with Conservation Halton and Cootes To Escarpment to plant 500 native trees and shrubs last Saturday for a “Trees for Watershed event”. Ironically, this took place at Bayview Park in Burlington…right across the road from where Meridian wanted to cut down the aforementioned 9,000 trees.

Will the Meridian Quarry Expansion become a local ballot box issue with two elections on the horizon?

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