The Highland Companies is a division of a multi-billion-dollar American hedge fund, The Baupost Group, based in Boston. Over the past few years the company quietly purchased over 8,000 acres of the richest farmland in Ontario, located in Melancthon Township, just north of Shelburne.
While amassing this land from local farmers, Highland claimed that their interest was potato farming, the business which has been the backbone of the local economy for well over 100 years. However, in the spring of 2011, The Highland Companies filed an application with the Ontario Ministry of Natural Resources to excavate this land to create the largest quarry ever proposed in Canada, and the second largest open pit mine in North America.
The proposed 2,300 acre Mega-Quarry would destroy thousands of acres of scarce class 1 agricultural land to blast an open pit mine deeper than Niagara Falls to facilitate the extraction of one billion tonnes of limestone.
The rare Honeywood silt loam that sits atop this landscape has created some of Ontario’s most fertile farmland. It produces 25 pounds of potatoes for every resident in Metro Toronto, in addition to other fruits and vegetables like rhubarb, peas, strawberries and beans.
The proposal to the Minister of Natural Resources claims that The Highland Companies will be able to ultimately return the land at the bottom of the 15-storey pit to agricultural uses. To do so would require the pumping of 600,000,000 litres of water per day, forever. Up to one million Ontarians rely on this water downstream from the site. It is at the headwaters of 5 river systems including the Grand River and the Nottawasaga.
The proposed Mega-Quarry lies next to the Niagara Escarpment, a UNESCO World Biosphere Reserve that is home to a rich diversity of plants and animals, some of which are threatened with extinction, like the Bobolink and Henslow’s Sparrow. The quarry would destroy prime habitat for many species and negatively impact the quality of life for wildlife and humans living in the surrounding areas through noise, dust, blasting reverberations and traffic.
We need to act now to permanently protect this land and better safeguard our drinking water and agricultural resources by amending Ontario’s aggregate extraction laws and policies.