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Did you think the Niagara Escarpment was actually protected? A Joint Board of the Ontario Municipal Board and the Environmental Review Tribunal have conditionally approved a massive new Walker Brothers quarry on the Niagara Escarpment, over the objections of the Niagara Escarpment Commission, two conservation authorities, a land trust and local citizens. As usually happens with quarry applications, two of the Joint Board members were from the OMB, and, as usual, they approved the quarry, with modest changes. Robert Wright, the single representative of the Environmental Review Tribunal, wrote a stinging and passionate 95 page dissent.

According to Mr. Wright,

“this site in the NEP Area, with a large existing quarry across the road, is not the right location for another large quarry and human-made end-lake.  The site is at the center of an intricate array of natural features, functions and systems that are, collectively, a unique ecologic area (with one exception that is discussed below).  They include:

  • the Niagara Escarpment;
  • the headwaters/watersheds of the Beaver River, the Pretty River and the Batteaux Creek;
  • a karst “high-k zone” that has not been fully evaluated;
  • karst features such as sinking streams and sink holes on top of the Escarpment;
  • 74 springs that discharge from the Amabel aquifer below the Escarpment brow immediately to the east;
  • the SW2 spring and watercourse in the southwest corner;
  • the Rob Roy complex of provincially significant wetlands;
  • unevaluated wetlands that are Areas of Natural and Scientific Interest (ANSIs “A” and “B”), which the Parties agree should be treated as provincially significant wetlands;
  • breeding ponds and vernal pools of amphibians, e.g., Wood Frog, Western Chorus Frog and Spotted Salamander;
  • provincially significant upland amphibian  breeding habitat (e.g., Spotted Salamander);
  • habitat of the Western Chorus Frog, a “threatened” species at the federal level, that is located in the Millar Pond on the eastern edge of the site;
  • a provincially significant woodland;
  • the provincially significant habitat of 23 Butternut trees, an endangered species in Ontario;
  • the continentally significant habitat of a colony of the American Harts Tongue Fern (“AHTF”), estimated to contain approximately 10,000 plants and clumps (“Colony 1”);
  • two smaller AHTF colonies (“Colonies 2 and 3”);
  • the Duntroon Escarpment Forest Life Science ANSI;
  • wildlife corridors and linkages;
  • interior forest habitat of area sensitive birds; and
  • potential Bobolink habitat (also an endangered species in Ontario) in the north-west field on the site, and the neighbouring property across the road, immediately to the west of the site.

The NEC accurately describes this area as a “strong functioning Natural Heritage System”.  It is a unique ecologic area with its hub, or the “glue” that holds together the many natural features, functions and systems, being the provincially significant woodland. …

The destruction and removal of natural features, functions and systems in the NEP Area are not vindicated by the Applicant’s arguments, and my colleagues’ findings, that there is more of the natural environment elsewhere (a “more elsewhere” approach), or that some trade-off or compensation will result in a “net gain”….

[I]n this special area of the province that is the geological backbone of southern Ontario and a World Biosphere Reserve, crucial aspects of the proposed development are not analyzed through the protective lens of the statutory provisions of the NEPDA and the policies of the NEP….

I find that the proposed new Mineral Resource Extraction Area designation …would not maintain the Niagara Escarpment and land in its vicinity substantially as a continuous natural environment, and would not ensure only such development occurs as is compatible with that natural environment. .. the NEP amendment is not justified and is not consistent with other relevant provincial policies, in this case the Greenbelt Plan and the PPS.  …”

Bottom line: The OMB members have overridden the laws and civil servants whose job it is to protect special areas, such as the Niagara Escarpment, and species, preferring to “balance” environmental protection with jobs and taxes. With this perspective”Development”, it seems, almost always wins.

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