By Doug Hallett
The four main candidates in the next provincial election set aside their political differences Tuesday to stand together on the issue of protecting Guelph’s water supply from the threat posed by a quarry located near the Hanlon Expressway.
“Wellington Water Watchers is truly honoured and excited that politics as usual has taken a back seat” on this issue, the non-profit organization’s executive director, Arlene Slocombe, told a crowd gathered in the main foyer at city hall. Having politicians of all stripes “come together like this is unprecedented . . . and it is a sign that this issue is in all of our hands,” she said. Wellington Water Watchers was formed a few years back in response to the threat to Guelph’s drinking water posed by the former Dolime quarry, she said.
Green Party of Ontario leader Mike Schreiner, who is running in Guelph in the election that could come as soon as this spring, has played up this quarry issue. He has distributed lawn signs in Guelph and circulated a petition that he said has over 2,500 signatures.
Schreiner was joined in signing a statement on the issue by Anthony MacDonald, who is running for the Progressive Conservatives, and NDP candidate James Gordon.
“Morally, it’s the responsible thing to do,” MacDonald said of signing the joint statement.
Local MPP and provincial education minister Liz Sandals couldn’t sign the statement, “but her presence here shows support,” Slocombe told the gathering.
Sandals said her position as a cabinet minister prevents her from taking a position on the issue, as it’s before the Environmental Review Tribunal of Ontario.
But Sandals said she has acted as “an advocate for Guelph’s water concerns” in the past, including intervening in a matter related to the former Dolime quarry in 2011. She said she also lobbied against a proposal for a massive limestone quarry in Melancthon township, near Orangeville. That proposal was withdrawn in November 2012.
Tuesday was the one-year anniversary of the City of Guelph’s application for leave to appeal a Ministry of Environment decision to grant an amended water-taking permit to River Valley Development Inc. for operations at the former Dolime quarry.
The joint statement signed by Gordon, MacDonald and Schreiner said they want everyone to “know that we support the city’s four conditions for continuation of River Valley Development’s operation of the former Dolime Quarry.”
These conditions, which are currently being examined by the Environmental Review Tribunal of Ontario, seek:
• water pumping at the quarry to be limited to the “current historic average pumping rate”
• a comprehensive long-term management plan for the quarry that protects Guelph’s water
• an effective monitoring program
• financial assurances and legally enforceable requirements to ensure the quarry owner – rather than Guelph ratepayers – pays for long-term mitigation costs related to the quarry’s operation.
City hall has been involved for years in a fight against River Valley’s plan to accelerate its gravel extraction at the quarry, which has operated since 1872. River Valley applied to the province in 2007 for permission to double its output of stone.
During a question-and-answer session, Sandals said she understands the Environmental Review Tribunal of Ontario process is at the stage of filing documents and responding to documents related to the city’s appeal application.
Schreiner said 25% of Guelph’s drinking water is near the quarry and could be threatened by damage at the quarry to the aquitard – a protective layer that guards groundwater from contamination by surface water.
Gordon said he doesn’t think the city’s four conditions go far enough. He said the quarry should be shut down.
MacDonald said he sees the city’s four conditions as “a good start” to deal with the situation.
Sandals said the Ministry of Natural Resources should act on a recommendation made by a standing committee at Queen’s Park last fall. It calls for the MNR and others to “ensure that potential cumulative impacts upon surface and groundwater resources are appropriately assessed and mitigated where warranted,” and it says that independent technical analysis should be undertaken where appropriate.
At the end of the questions, Schreiner lauded “the integrity of the political leadership of Guelph” for being part of such an all-party event. “I think it says a lot about Guelph,” he said as onlookers broke into applause.
By Doug Hallett