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Escarpment 2

The company that has punched a hole across the Niagara Escarpment wants to enlarge the hole. It has applied to the Niagara Escarpment Commission for permission to expand its quarry onto adjoining escarpment land.

You can see the small end of the hole from Highway 401 if you are travelling westward toward London and have just passed Milton. There’s a gap where the company — Dufferin Aggregates, a division of St. Lawrence Cement Inc. — has chewed through the outer wall of the escarpment to create a road for its trucks. Above the road, crossing the gap, is a foot bridge built by Dufferin for the Bruce Trail Association. Beyond that you can see the roof of a processing plant.

It’s when you go to the other side of the escarpment that you see the full expanse of the hole. It will soon cover more than twice the area of Downsview Park in Toronto, the site of the former Downsview airport. Dufferin wants to add to this barrenness a piece of the escarpment about a third the size of the park.

The biggest portion of the hole is now worked out. It’s about 20 metres deep and roughly triangular in shape — about 2.8 kilometres along the base, 2.1 kilometres from the base to the apex.

Mining operations have moved to what Dufferin calls its north quarry, where an area roughly half a kilometre square is being mined. The remainder, equal in size, is thickly forested with trees that will be cut down.

When that happens, the only route left for wildlife to move north and south in the controlled area of the escarpment will be through a narrow finger of land. However, the finger is now bisected by a heavy trucking road built by Dufferin to transport stone from the north quarry to a processing plant in the worked-out triangle.

Despair as we might want to over this loss of the escarpment, it’s too late to complain. Dufferin received licences for the two quarries long before the Niagara Escarpment Plan was passed in 1985.

However, it’s a different story with the new chunk of land that Dufferin wants to the north and east of the north quarry. Approval would mean amending the plan.

Dufferin argues that the existing quarry supplies 18 to 24 per cent of the crushed stone used in the Greater Toronto Area (GTA). However, it will run out of stone in eight to ten years, and expansion is essential if it is to continue meeting the needs of the GTA.

Arguments pro and con are swirling around the application concerning the large number of endangered species in the area, water tables, the impact on wetlands, fragmentation of the forest, and rehabilitation plans by Dufferin after all quarries are exhausted.

But in the mass of detail, what’s getting lost from view is the reason for the Niagara Escarpment Plan. It’s to preserve the escarpment for all time, because it is so unique.

Provincial legislation says its purpose is « to provide for the maintenance of the Niagara Escarpment and land in its vicinity substantially as a continuous natural environment, and to ensure only such development occurs as is compatible with the natural environment. »

Nothing about this quarry expansion would be compatible. It would be the coup de grace in ending continuity in this area. Dufferin argues it would mitigate damage through rehabilitation. The lakes it would create might turn out to be be nice, but they could never be called natural environment.

The staff of the Niagara Escarpment Commission has recommended that Dufferin’s application be denied. Its report can be found at www.escarpment.org. However, local municipal councils, and even the Bruce Trail Association, have voiced their approvals, and the commission has set Oct. 17 to discuss the application.

That leaves only 14 working days to voice opposition. The commission’s Georgetown telephone number is (905) 877-5191, and its fax number is (905) 873-7452. Speak out, I urge you.

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