Melancthon mega-quarry: It’s limestone vs. potatoes – by David Suzuki (Toronto Star – October 19, 2012)

The Toronto Star has the largest circulation in Canada. The paper has an enormous impact on federal and Ontario politics as well as shaping public opinion.

David Suzuki is a scientist and co-founder of the David Suzuki Foundation. Written with contributions from David Suzuki Foundation communications specialist Jode Roberts.

A billion tonnes of limestone lie beneath the rural countryside in Melancthon township, 100 kilometres north of Toronto. A plan to remove it spotlights the challenges faced everywhere when the desire to protect valuable and ever-diminishing farmland clashes with efforts to push industrial development.

The Highland Companies, backed by a $25-billion Boston hedge fund, hopes to blast a big hole in this fertile land to get at a deposit of 400-million-year-old sedimentary rock. The pit would cover more than 930 hectares and be almost 20 storeys deep — the second-largest quarry operation in North America, and the largest in Canadian history.

According to the company’s proposal, moving this much rock will require 20,000 kilograms of explosives a day for the next few decades, and hundreds of trucks and heavy machines. The proposed quarry would be 200 feet below the water table — vertically deeper than Niagara Falls, and twice as wide.

For generations, local farmers have benefitted from the area’s unique, 10,000-year-old soil, called “Honeywood silt loam.” This Class 1 agricultural soil — the rarest in Canada — is not too sticky or sandy, holds moisture, drains well and is free of rocks. It’s perfect for potatoes. Area farms now harvest more than 450,000 kilograms of spuds each year, including about half the fresh potatoes consumed in the Greater Toronto Area.

If the company only intended to remove the limestone and then allow the pit to fill with water, it would be similar to quarries across Canada, including more than 2,000 in Ontario. However, the Highland plan is far more ambitious. Beyond clearing the land and digging under the water table, the company wants to set aside the prized agricultural soil and then put it back at the bottom of the pit once the rock is removed. That way, farming can continue sometime in the future. Problem solved!

But cultivating crops at the bottom of a pit 200 feet below the water table is not easy. It would require about 600 million litres of water to be pumped out every day, 24 hours a day, seven days a week — forever.

The company claims its proposal to recover agricultural opportunities is proof of noble intent and sustainable ambitions. Critics argue the plan is unrealistic. Forever is a long commitment, especially for a company backed by a foreign hedge fund.

For the rest of this column, please go to the Toronto Star website: http://www.thestar.com/opinion/editorialopinion/article/1273942–melancthon-mega-quarry-it-s-limestone-vs-potatoes

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