Critics celebrate surprise end of mega quarry north of Toronto – by Renata D’Aliesio and Karen Howlett (Globe and Mail – November 22, 2012)

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MELANCTHON TOWNSHIP — While in their vast vegetable fields Wednesday, harvesting the last of their brussel sprout crop, Bill French and his son received a stunning text message: The bid to develop one of the largest rock quarries on the continent, one that would have encircled their family farm for 50 to 100 years, was dead, unexpectedly abandoned by the Canadian and American investors behind the divisive project.

The French family rejoiced as the text messages kept coming. The hard-fought battle that had united a motley crew – farmers and urbanites, politicians and entertainers, aboriginals and top Toronto chefs – was over, for a while at least. Some of Southern Ontario’s finest farmland would no longer be transformed into a massive limestone pit.

“It’s really good news,” said Mr. French, 57, said as he sat on his red tractor. “I was surprised they withdrew it this early. I thought it would go on for another five years.

The story behind the mega-quarry began six years ago when Ontarian John Lowndes began buying up prime farmland in Melancthon Township, about 120 kilometres north of Toronto. Mr. French and other farmers contend Mr. Lowndes portrayed himself as only interested in producing potatoes, but suspicions soon surfaced. Those suspicions were confirmed last year, when The Highland Companies submitted an application to the province to develop a limestone quarry.

The pit would have been mammoth, converting as much as 765 hectares of farmland into a rock mine. Highland had pledged the natural resource, one billion tonnes of it, would be excavated in stages over many decades and the land would eventually be restored.

But opponents argued the project’s environmental and social toll was too great. Ontario’s environment ministry had too expressed concerns about the quarry proposal. The limestone deposit sits well below the water table. Highland would have had to pump up and store as much as 600 million litres of water a day to keep the pit’s work surface dry.

John Scherer, one of two principals with The Highland Companies, said he believes the quarry proposal was well crafted but it didn’t have sufficient support from the community or from the provincial government. In withdrawing its application, Highland also announced Wednesday that Mr. Lowndes, who was president of the operation, has resigned and will have no further involvement with the private company.

“In hindsight, we did not do a real good job of engaging the local community and the public at large about our project and about the benefits and how we would move the project forward,” Mr. Scherer said. “As a result there is a lot of misinformation that was out there.”

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