The company behind a controversial quarry proposal on Lake Superior says it will forge ahead with site preparations and dock improvements this summer despite published reports suggesting Ontario Environment Minister Leona Dombrowsky is considering ordering a full environmental assessment (EA) on the development.
Bruce Staines, mine manager of Superior Aggregates, stopped short of saying whether a full assessment would jeopardize his Wawa-based company’s plans to blast and crush 1,000 tonnes of trap rock per day, but added that a long, drawn-out process would “certainly damage the chances of the operation being profitable.”
Superior Aggregates, a subsidiary company of the Carlo Companies, a Detroit road building and contracting business, has tabled plans with Michipicoten Township to establish a quarry, warehouse and to ship trap rock by lake freighter to markets around the Great Lakes as part of a harbour revitalization project.
The project, which would create more than 20 full-time and seasonal jobs in a very depressed local economy, has attracted opposition from a Wawa citizens group, area ecotourism operators and a number of Canadian celebrities who want the area’s wilderness preserved as part of the Great Lakes Heritage Coast.
The opponents say blasting would release arsenic and acid sulphides from the rock into the lake and area aquifer.
A Toronto newspaper reported in early April that Environment Minister Dombrosky was considering ordering an environmental assessment on the quarry and that her Liberal government was taking a more aggressive line towards environmental regulation in the wake of the killing of the Adams Mine landfill project in Kirkland Lake.
The report further says previous governments have been reluctant to expand environmental assessments to private developments in recent years because companies oppose them since the assessment process is lengthy, costly and can doom projects found to be too environmentally harmful.
Staines believes ordering a full environment assessment could cost his company as much as $10 million, could take years to complete and represents regulatory “over-kill” since he maintains Superior Aggregates conducted its own environmental impact studies and is following the guidelines of the province’s Aggregate Resources Act.
Superior Aggregates also entered into a site-plan agreement with Michipicoten Township, and the company fully expects their application will be challenged at the Ontario Municipal Board later this year. But whether the province orders a full assessment remains at Minister Dombrowsky’s discretion based on comments from her technical staff, says a Ministry of Environment spokesperson.
In mid-April, the proposal was in the midst of a 30-day public comment period for calls to place the project under Ontario’s Environmental Protection Act (EPA).
Environment Ministry spokesperson John Steele could find no other cases of a quarry being designated under the EPA, other than a power plant in the mid-1980s.
Steele says Dombrowsky is on record as saying changes in Ontario’s environment assessment process are coming since the current legislation remains in question based on a successful citizens’ court challenge of a Napanee landfill expansion last June of the previous Tory government’s more limited “scoped” EA process.
Until new legislation is approved, many environmental assessments across Ontario are on hold.
He could not comment how soon Dombrowsky might call for an assessment at the conclusion of the public consultation period since the deadline remains in early May.
The project falls under the combined jurisdiction of the Ministries of Environment, Natural Resources, and Municipal Affairs and Housing.
Staines says in his discussions with various provincial officials, they were assured the government would judge the quarry project on the merits of their case and not be swayed by political pressure or interest groups. He further feels Superior Aggregates’ case is solid enough not to pose any riskto the surrounding environment. ”If it’s based on the merits of the case, I would have zero fear.”
Based on advice given by the Ministry of Municipal Affairs and Housing, Staines says they will proceed with upgrades to a former commercial ore dock in Michipicoten Harbour - installing new bollards and anchoring systems to receive freighters - in anticipation that a full EA will not be ordered.
If an assessment is called for, Staines says his company would investigate other options such as relocating the quarry further inland on their 980-acre property.