Citizens Against Melrose Quarry must feel a bit like Groundhog Day all over again. They won, sort of, but are now back at the beginning again. The quarry owner may feel the same way.
The citizens’ group is a not-for-profit group incorporated in 2013 and consisting mainly of local residents, farmers and others opposed to new or expanded aggregate operations at or beside Long’s Quarry in Tyendinaga Township, in the County of Hastings, Ontario. The group believes that increased water extraction by the quarry will adversely affect their water supply.
In 2012, C.H. Demill Holdings Inc. (the “Permit Holder”), obtained a two year Permit to Take Water (PTTW) for its quarry under s. 34 of the Ontario Water Resources Act. In 2013, it applied to renew that PTTW for 10 years, as part of its expansion plans. The Permit Holder claims that it does not extract groundwater, only snow melt and precipitation that falls in the quarry.
In June, 2014, the Director, Ministry of the Environment and Climate Change, gave them a one year PTTW No. 7742-9E9TGN (the “PTTW”) to the “Permit Holder”), expiring in June 2015. The citizens’ group immediately sought leave to appeal. They were successful, in that they got leave to appeal on October 27, 2014. The Tribunal agreed that
[T]he Director’s Decision to issue the 2014 PTTW could result in significant harm to the environment. The following factors are sufficient to conclude that it appears that the Director’s Decision to issue the 2014 PTTW could result in significant harm to the environment: this is an HVA with existing sensitive uses (as confirmed by the Director in her submissions); Blessington Creek, the receiving water, has been identified as a potentially sensitive surface water feature; the continuing uncertainty regarding the hydrogeology of the area; and the debate among the hydrogeological experts regarding the adequacy of the monitoring and contingency plans in the 2014 PTTW. The additional factor of the troubled compliance history of the Instrument Holder, including in relation to conditions of the most recent 2012 PTTW, adds to the risk of future environmental harm in case of non-compliance with the 2014 PTTW.
The citizens were also successful in limiting the amount of water the quarry could extract during the appeal. But the appeal process itself took almost the full year that the permit would last. The Environmental Review Tribunal amended the permit on June 26, 2015, just before it expired. The amendments significantly reduced the amount of water that the quarry could extract, especially in low water years; required better monitoring and contingency planning; required the quarry to do more to conserve water, etc.
Meanwhile, the Permit Holder has (naturally) applied for a new ten year PTTW, which the MOECC proposes to grant. To oppose the new PTTW, the citizens’ group must now go through the entire exhausting and expensive process again, starting by again applying for leave to appeal. It is not yet clear whether the MOECC will put into the new PTTW the changes that the Tribunal made to the 2014 PTTW.
Is this really the best way to protect and allocate groundwater?