McSweeney: Ontario’s gravel industry is not getting a free pass

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The extraction of stone, sand and gravel is fundamental to development in Ontario, and we’re working to do it in a responsible way.

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The following was written in response to the opinion piece “Ontario shouldn’t be giving the gravel industry a free pass,” which was published by the Citizen Jan. 15:

Guest writer John Blais is clearly not supportive of the aggregate industry. And the report from the Office of the Auditor General of Ontario did point to issues that need to be strengthened in the industry.

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But the aggregate industry is safe and in no way did the Auditor General’s report suggest otherwise.

The report highlights the need for increased inspections of aggregate sites, and for increases in penalties and consequences for those who do not comply. The Ontario Stone, Sand & Gravel Association (OSSGA) agrees, and the industry, along with top aggregate-producing municipalities, has been calling for an increase in the aggregate levy to help fund more inspections for nearly a decade.

The vast majority of inspection reports point to administrative compliance issues such as not paying dues on time; having damaged fence posts; or signage infractions that do not negatively impact the environment. These are important, nonetheless. OSSGA will work with the Ministry of Natural Resources and Forestry (MNRF), The Ontario Aggregate Resources Corporation (TOARC) and our members to take action to rectify these compliance issues.

The good news is that many issues are being addressed. The report correctly highlights the shortage of experienced aggregate inspectors; however, it also notes that the number increased from 22 in 2022 to 34 in 2023. An additional 19 inspectors have been hired and to bolster public trust, comprehensive training and staffing initiatives are underway at MNRF.

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Rehabilitation and the closing of pits and quarries is another area of concern. The report indicates that a number of sites have not seen active extraction in more than 10 years, yet the producers have not surrendered the licence. The report does not say that there hasn’t been any progressive rehabilitation on these sites. In fact, it could be that 50, 60 or even 70 per cent of a site has been rehabilitated and only a small area remains to be extracted.

A site often sits dormant when there is no local market for the material in the ground. The remaining aggregate might not meet current project needs but there will be a market for it in the future. To be environmentally smart and ensure the wisest use of the resource, producers try to remove all of the aggregate before that site is closed — even if it takes 25 years.  In the meantime, the site will be progressively rehabilitated, and most people will not even know it is there.

What the Auditor General report does do is affirm that close-to-market aggregate is required to meet the demand for infrastructure development in Ontario. We need roads, hospitals and schools and the provincial government has committed to 1.5 million new homes by 2030.

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We need to extract the stone, sand and gravel needed to build that infrastructure in the most environmentally friendly manner possible, which requires that it be extracted in communities that are aggregate-rich. Ottawa is a community in which nature deposited a large amount of this important natural resource.

We need to work together. The province of Ontario is expected to grow by nearly four million people over the next 25 years. To build the infrastructure required to support that growth, it is estimated that approximately four billion tonnes of aggregate will be required. OSSGA looks forward to collaborating further with communities such as Ottawa and the ministry to help foster a robust and environmentally friendly approach to extracting the stone, sand and gravel fundamental to building Ontario’s bright economic future.

Michael McSweeney is Executive Director of the Ontario Stone, Sand and Gravel Association.

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