After nearly three years of waiting, Fowler Construction, the Township of Ramara and a local citizen group will have the chance to defend their positions on a proposed quarry extension starting this week.
Fowler Construction filed an application with the Township of Ramara in 2018 to rezone a property north of the existing Fleming quarry. If approved, it would have allowed for an additional 6.9 hectares of mineral aggregate extraction. Township council rejected the company’s application in a 5-2 vote, leading Fowler to file an appeal with the Local Planning Appeal Tribunal, now known as the Ontario Land Tribunal (OLT), in August 2019. The resulting OLT hearing starts on Feb. 22, is expected to last for 25 days and will happen via video conference. Ramara Mayor Basil Clarke said he’s glad the hearing is finally happening and feels good about their chances.
“One of the advantages I think we have in this case is there is an existing quarry in place,” Clarke said. “So often when you try and say that this is going to be disruptive to the community, a judge will look at you and say, ‘That’s subjective. Where’s your hard proof?’ Because there’s an existing quarry, we have hard proof that this quarry is very disruptive to the area.”
Clarke said he wants the public and the province to pay attention to this case since it could set a precedent for future hearings. The township was clear in their official plan about which areas were prime aggregate areas and the area for the proposed extension is not, he said. If it were limestone or another material in short supply, it could be a different situation, but there’s no shortage of granite.
“It really makes it look like the province doesn’t respect the local official plans at all if we’re not successful in this case,” Clarke said. “I really hope MPPS are paying attention to what’s going on here in little Ramara Township because this is big.”
The Ramara Legacy Alliance formed in 2018 as a response to Fowler’s rezoning application. The group includes more than 120 property owners from Floral Park, a community adjacent to the quarry, as well as other surrounding neighbourhoods.
The alliance says they’re not against quarries in general, just ones situated so close to residential areas. Joan Mizzi-Fry, president of the Ramara Legacy Alliance, said stress is the primary emotion their members have been experiencing since they were first notified of Fowler’s intentions in March 2018.
“It became clear that if Fowler was allowed to move forward, they would be here for decades,” Mizzi-Fry said. “Decades of more blasting, potential of more flyrock landing in backyards, plumes of questionable dust, disrupting environmentally sensitive wetlands.”
Even without the extension, many locals have felt the effects of living so close to a quarry, especially when it comes to blasting. Homeowners have felt their homes shake with some reporting pictures falling off the walls and others experiencing actual structural damage, Mizzi-Fry said.
On top of concerns about safety risks like flyrock, the intensity of the blasts is particularly stressful for locals with emotional or sensory issues as well as the pets they live with. If there’s one positive to come from Fowler’s application, Mizzi-Fry said it’s the fact that it inspired the community to get organized, though the process comes with both emotional and financial costs.
“Trust me, we are not a wealthy community with offshore bank accounts. Challenging [an] aggregate company with deep pockets was going to take money. Lots of money,” she said. “That alone might have curbed our enthusiasm. However, over the next three years, our community and local businesses rallied again and raised funds to carry on the challenge.”
In addition to documenting their own experiences living near the quarry, the alliance has raised concerns about the quarry’s impact on drinking water, endangered species and property values. Members of the group have also recorded various traffic issues in the area, including several blasting events where they say Fowler employees stopped traffic as far back as 900 metres away from the existing quarry site.
Between the evidence they’ve gathered and the help of their environmental lawyer David Donnelly, the alliance is hopeful heading into the hearing. They know what can happen when a municipality and its citizens work together, Mizzi-Fry said, and they’re optimistic that the work of the alliance and the township will bring an end to the extension issue.
“As we move into the next and hopefully final phase of this challenge, many of us throughout the province will be glued to our computers for the next three weeks watching the OLT hearings,” she said. “However, the emotional and financial toll we experienced will resonate for years to come. We hope the tribunal will side with Ramara Township and the community.”
James Gordon, materials manager for Fowler, said the company has no comment at this time.
To learn more, read Muskoka411’s past coverage below. Visit the OLT Youtube page to watch the livestream of the hearing, which starts at 10 a.m. on Feb. 22.