Leach crushes Caledon plan for gravel pits

Caledon Gravel

There are, in Ian Sinclair the man, memories of the boy he was, lurking behind his words. We are standing on a concession road in Caledon, at the edge of North America’s largest series of gravel pits.

We can see cars travelling the neighbouring concession road more than a kilometre-and-a-half away. In between there is nothing but a huge pit with a small lake at the bottom in which sits a clam-shovel dredge for digging up yet more gravel from the lake’s bottom.

This pit is one in a string that stretches about seven kilometres. These are old pits, opened before current regulations were enacted. They are beyond the reach of the Town of Caledon to control.

Sinclair is a town councillor, and as I question him the memories take voice and speak of a sense of powerlessness. They tell of a young boy growing up on the Danforth in Toronto who used to walk in the wildness of the Don Valley where he could see deer, snowy owls, foxes and pheasants.

A boy who still remembers how forces larger than he could comprehend slammed through the Don Valley Expressway and ended it as a place for people. Who remembers how new apartment buildings, that sprang up on the Rosedale side of the valley, sprinkled ashes from their incinerators on his family’s home. He remembers how having no voice bred a gnawing frustration.

He sees the same process going on in Caledon, and he wants to change it. So do Mayor Carol Seglins and other councillors. They want to create a system for making decisions concerning gravel pits that has the support of townspeople throughout the 700 square kilometres that make up the town.

They don’t want to stop gravel extraction, they want to make it more orderly. They want to see it properly staged; they want to be able to assess cumulative impact instead of being restricted to looking at each development application in isolation.

They want pit owners to establish need before they open a new pit or expand an old one. That would cut down on the number of pits operating at any one time, and people would have a clearer idea of when pits would close and when rehabilitation would be completed.

With that in mind, the council began a year and a half ago to organize a « community resource study’’ that would offer recommendations to the province on how such a system would work. Representatives from all the different factions, including pit owners, agreed to participate, and in June of this year, council approved a $100,000 budget.

A month ago, Al Leach, Ontario’s minister of municipal affairs and housing, sabotaged the process.

In July, a month after the study got its budget, the Region of Peel updated its official plan and sent it to Leach for approval. Once approved, Caledon would be bound by provisions in Peel’s plan.

Mayor Seglins and a delegation begged Leach not to approve the plan as it related to gravel extraction until the 20-month study was completed. He refused.

The plan, as approved, follows provincial policies issued by the Conservatives as a demonstration of their « common sense revolution.’’ It says nothing about staging, cumulative effect, or establishing need. And it protects the gravel industry by prohibiting development « in or adjacent to’’ areas that have large gravel deposits.

Meredith Bereford, director of the ministry’s planning branch, defends Leach’s decision. It followed standard practice, she says. If Caledon’s study demonstrates that changes should be made in the plan, they will be, she adds.

But Mayor Seglins says that this misses the point entirely. « We had everyone at the table,’’ she says, « including the pit owners.’’ Now that the Peel plan has been blessed with Leach’s approval, she says pit owners have a lock on developing lands pretty well when and how they want.

It means Leach has stripped the town of its negotiating power, she says. « What he’s done is throw the study into a confrontational rather than a collaborative mode.’’

The provincial policy statement talks about « developing strong communities.’’ And, in the language of sustainability, it « recognizes that there are complex inter-relationships among environmental, economic, and social factors in land use planning.’’

As Leach has demonstrated, these are just words in the wind.

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