North Dufferin Agricultural and Community Taskforce (NDACT)

June 23, 2009 15:16 ET

A Major Controversy Brews Over Competing Land Uses in North Dufferin County

HONEYWOOD, ONTARIO--(Marketwire - June 23, 2009) - A major controversy is brewing between concerned residents of North Dufferin County and the owners of the largest land assembly in the region, one that will truly test the land use and environmental priorities of the Ontario Government. The McGuinty Government has generated considerable fanfare with its commitments to the protection of prime agricultural lands and ground water resources. A growing body of legislation and policies have been put into place, representing a welcome paradigm shift in how the Province's natural and non-renewable resources are to be protected. Despite these very positive reforms, they will mean very little in places like Dufferin County if the Government's long standing aggregate extraction policies, which favour the aggregate industry, are allowed to prevail over other, environmentally sensitive and sustainable priorities.

Over 6,000 acres of prime agricultural land have been assembled over the past few years north of Shelburne in Melancthon and Mulmur Townships by The Highland Companies. The lands have been acquired through several numbered companies and the acquisitions have allegedly been financed by a Boston, Massachusetts based hedge fund. The Highland Companies have recently advised the Township of Melancthon that an application for a quarry licence is imminent. The Highland Companies' landholdings rival in land mass the world's largest limestone quarry located in Rogers City, Michigan.

The area in question is well renowned for its specialty soils, known as Honeywood Loam, which have been farmed for over 150 years, supplying approximately 50% of all potato crops requirements for the nearby Toronto market, both for direct consumption and via the processing of potato based food products. In addition, the immediate area contains a system of underground streams and rivers, as well as fragile water recharge areas, which form the headwaters of the Nottawasaga and Grand River systems which in turn directly feed into the Great Lakes.

The area is also home to large deposits of limestone and aggregate, which contribute to the drainage and quality of the local soils, and make them agriculturally unique. Since acquiring the land, the new owners have been conducting well and hydrological testing, archaeological studies, tree, fence and house removals, and other activities throughout their landholdings, which have led local residents to suspect that the limestone and aggregate deposits are the major target and end game behind the land assembly, and that plans for a massive quarry is in the works.

Public meetings were held in January and June of this year and attended by hundreds of concerned citizens. The residents have formed a non-profit organization, The North Dufferin Agricultural and Community Taskforce, Inc. (or NDACT), to represent the community's interests.

NDACT is concerned with the potential and permanent loss of this prime agricultural resource, and has made an application to Melancthon and Mulmur Townships and the Municipality of Grey Highlands to have this unique vegetable growing area protected and designated as Specialty Crop Lands, consistent with the Provincial Policy Statement and similar to the land use designations attached to the Holland Marsh, Thornbury Apple Orchards and Niagara Wine areas, which are similarly located within close proximity to the Toronto market.

Most recently, The Ontario Federation of Agriculture unanimously passed a resolution supporting NDACT's proposed Specialty Crop Designation for this area.

The owners of the land assembly have also been negotiating the acquisition of the rail line between Streetsville (Mississauga) and Orangeville, as well as the currently abandoned rail corridor between Orangeville and Owen Sound, giving rise to speculation that the area will be transformed from a rural, agricultural setting to a major industrial aggregate extraction operation that will be transporting mined materials to markets outside of Ontario through rail connections to the Great Lakes system. A large portion of the abandoned rail corridor is currently being used for hiking and snowmobiling trails and other recreational uses.

NDACT is of the view that the potential loss of this prime agricultural land use, as well as the potential impact on the headwaters of these two major river systems, is not only a local issue, but rather, a matter of Provincial significance which should be of deep concern to all residents of Ontario. Agricultural land is a finite resource, and is disappearing rapidly through urban sprawl. Despite hundreds of millions of Ontario taxpayer dollars being directed toward developing and implementing the Greenbelt Act, Safe Drinking Water Act and the Clean Water Act, current Provincial policies appear to favour aggregate over food, farmland and water. Although aggregate resources are required to satisfy the Province's requirements to build new roads and infrastructure, there needs to be a balance between those requirements and the inherent right of the Province's citizens to have a reliable and permanent self-sustaining source of food and water resources.

Of equal concern is the fragility of the ground water recharge system in this area, which acts as the headwaters for the Nottawasaga and Grand Rivers. This area has been determined by scientific study, through a document entitled The AEMOT Study, to be an extremely vulnerable water recharge system. The study was commissioned by Melancthon Township and 4 other municipalities in 2002, in the wake of the Walkerton tragedy.

There are many other areas in the Province where limestone and aggregate can be mined and where these activities would not be in conflict with precious agricultural and water resources. The question which all citizens of Ontario should be asking of their elected representatives is whether the Province has the foresight to clarify its historical aggregate policies with a view to preserving and protecting these agricultural and water resources on behalf of its citizens before the damage becomes irreversible.

In addition, residents (living both within and outside of the directly affected areas) and environmental and other organizations should voice their concerns by contacting their local and Provincial elected representatives.

Contact Information

  • North Dufferin Agricultural and Community Taskforce (NDACT)
    Dale Rutledge
    Chair of NDACT
    Cell: (519) 940-6165
    Home: (519) 925-6596
    North Dufferin Agricultural and Community Taskforce (NDACT)
    Dave Vander Zaag
    Director of NDACT
    Cell: (905) 729-7188
    North Dufferin Agricultural and Community Taskforce (NDACT)
    Norman Wolfson
    Vice Chair of NDACT
    Work (M-F): (416) 703-5482 ext 224
    By mail:
    Attention: Mr. Dale Rutledge, Chairman
    Box 15
    Honeywood, Ontario, L0N 1H0