Category:Aggregate Resources Act

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Aggregates in Ontario

Aggregates include sand, gravel, and crushed rock; specific types include limestone, dolostone, sandstone, marble and granite. Aggregates are used for road building and other construction. The two types of aggregate extraction operations are quarries and pits. The difference between a pit and a quarry is based on the type of material being taken from a site. Sand and gravel are called unconsolidated materials and come from a pit. Bedrock, such as limestone and granite, is considered to be consolidated material and comes from a quarry. Usually, blasting is required to remove aggregate from a quarry, but not from a pit.

To minimize transportation costs, most aggregate sites are located close to their primary markets – the highly urbanized and high growth areas of southern Ontario. To meet current demand and/or quality requirements, aggregate producers are seeking approval to expand existing and open new aggregate extraction sites close to populated areas including in sensitive natural areas where high quality aggregates have been found, such as the Niagara Escarpment, Oak Ridges Moraine and the Carden Plain. The province’s management of this non-renewable resource has come under considerable scrutiny in response to increasing concerns about how to meet this demand, and how to protect sensitive natural areas and the quality of life of neighbouring communities.

An array of laws, regulations, policies and approvals is used in Ontario to plan, permit and manage aggregate operations. The Ministry of Natural Resources (MNR) is the lead agency responsible for regulating aggregate pits and quarries under the Aggregate Resources Act (ARA). MNR has delegated to the Ministry of Transportation (MTO) the authority under the ARA to issue and manage wayside permits and aggregate permits, when the aggregate is required for provincial road projects.

Other ministries, such as the Ministry of the Environment (MOE) and Municipal Affairs and Housing (MMAH), may also play a role in regulating aggregate operations under the Environmental Protection Act, Environmental Assessment Act, Ontario Water Resources Act, Conservation Authorities Act, Fisheries Act, Planning Act, Niagara Escarpment Planning and Development Act, Oak Ridges Moraine Conservation Act, and Greenbelt Act.

The public may comment on proposals for some instruments such as licences, permits and certificates of approval issued under the Acts described above. The public comment period is usually 30 days for these instruments, but may be up to 45 days for aggregate licences. Additional notice and public meetings are provided for aggregate licences and for some other types of approvals.

Almost all aggregate licences are posted on the Environmental Registry. Major amendments to licences and site plans are also posted for comment on the Environmental Registry, as well as some compliance-related decisions such as revocation of a licence. With one rare exception, aggregate permits are not posted on the Environmental Registry.

MNR staff may decide whether notice is warranted for some amendments to licences and site plans or for granting relief from compliance. For example, MNR does not provide notice of amendments to licences if ministry staff consider the amendments “minor.” However, MNR always provides notice of amendments to site plans if the amendments authorize an increase in the number of tonnes of aggregate to be removed in a year or a lowering of the final depth. Other approvals, such as aggregate permits issued by MNR, are not subject to EBR notice, but do receive other mandatory public notice and comment, as required by MNR’s ARA Provincial Standards and, in some cases, by MNR’s Class Environmental Assessment procedures. Permits issued by MTO do not require mandatory consultation.

Four approvals under the Aggregate Resources Act may be subject to the leave to appeal process: new Class A and Class B licences (if a hearing has not been held already), revocation of a licence, and issuance of an aggregate permit for private aggregate from land under water. The appropriate appeal body for aggregate licences is the Ontario Municipal Board, and the appeal body for aggregate permits is the Mining and Lands Commissioner. Decisions by other ministries, such as MOE Permits to Take Water and certificates of approval for air discharges, are also subject to leave to appeal. The Environmental Review Tribunal handles appeals under MOE legislation. Planning Act approvals are appealed to the Ontario Municipal Board. Occasionally, a “Joint Board,” with members from two or more of the appeal bodies, will consider an application for a new pit or quarry that requires several types of approvals.

The ECO has created a primer on the ARA process to assist members of the public: click here.


The Ministry of Natural Resources (MNR) has overall responsibility for managing aggregates under the Aggregate Resources Act (ARA). Despite an array of laws, regulations, policies and approvals that outline requirements for planning, permitting and managing aggregate operations, the ECO and others have raised a number of concerns including:

  • a lack of capacity at MNR to fulfil its obligations;
  • siting of aggregate operations near urbanized areas and sensitive natural areas;
  • a lack of compliance with approvals by aggregate producers and enforcement of approvals by the province;
  • a low rate of rehabilitation of pits and quarries;
  • inadequate long-term planning; and
  • the geographic scope of the ARA.

While some positive steps have been made by the province, many of the concerns raised by the ECO since the mid-1990s and discussed in detail in our 2002/2003 Annual Report, Thinking Beyond the Near and Now, remain as relevant today as then.

MNR has issued approximately 2,800 licences for pits and quarries on private lands, mostly in southern Ontario, and 3,200 permits for pits and quarries on Crown land. The Ministry of Transportation (MTO), a large user of aggregates, has issued approximately 500 permits to producers that supply aggregates for provincial road projects, under delegated authority from MNR.

Lack of capacity at MNR

In our 1996 Annual Report, Opening the Doors to Better Environmental Decision Making, the ECO reported that government cutbacks may cause major shortcomings in MNR’s aggregate program. A lack of planning and approvals staff, and enforcement officers; and inadequate funding for the program were hindering MNR’s ability to issue timely approvals, ensure compliance with approvals and rehabilitation requirements and develop long-term plans. As evidence grew that this lack of capacity was posing a significant threat to the environment, the ECO released the Special Report in 2007, Doing Less with Less: How shortfalls in budget, staffing and in-house expertise are hampering the effectiveness of MOE and MNR. In this report, the ECO described the budget and staffing cuts at MNR since the early 1990s and discussed how these cuts have hampered MNR’s ability to manage aggregates.

Siting of aggregate operations

One of the most intractable issues has been the siting of aggregate operations. Under the 2005 Provincial Policy Statement (PPS), municipalities are required to allow aggregate operations to locate as close to markets as possible without consideration of need and to disallow development that would hinder or prevent aggregate operations from expanding or continuing to operate even in sensitive areas. The ECO discussed changes to aggregate planning on the Niagara Escarpment in our 1999/2000 Annual Report, Changing Perspectives, and on the Oak Ridges Moraine in our 2001/2002 Annual Report, Developing Sustainability.

Inspection of aggregate sites

In 1997, in response to staffing cutbacks, MNR needed an alternative to sending its own inspectors out to inspect every licensed site annually, as was required under the ARA. MNR developed the Aggregate Resource Compliance Monitoring Program, a program that makes aggregate producers responsible for monitoring and reporting annually on their own environmental compliance. As described in our 1997 Annual Report, Open Doors, MNR would then review all of the compliance reports and select a number of sites for inspections with the objective that every site would be field-inspected within the five-year window for prosecutions under the ARA. However, as discussed in Developing Sustainability, and again in our 2003/2004 Annual Report, Choosing our Legacy, MNR has had difficulty meeting these targets. In Doing Less with Less, the ECO reported that MNR had taken some steps to increase its inspection capacity.

Lack of compliance with aggregate approvals

MNR has acknowledged that lack of staff and visibility in the field has resulted in an increase in illegal aggregate operations and complaints. In Choosing our Legacy, the ECO reported that significant weaknesses had been identified in the compliance reports prepared by producers. In Doing Less with Less, the ECO discussed the ramifications of these weaknesses.

Rehabilitation of aggregate sites

Although under the ARA aggregate producers are required to rehabilitate areas of active sites as they become exhausted, the area disturbed by extraction far exceeds the area rehabilitated. As a result the ECO has become increasingly concerned about industry’s compliance with and MNR’s enforcement of rehabilitation obligations. The steps that MNR took in the early 2000s to address these concerns were discussed in Choosing our Legacy. Three groups – Gravel Watch, a citizen’s group, the Pembina Institute and Ontario Nature – were also concerned and submitted EBR applications requesting MNR to review its approach to rehabilitation. The ECO discussed their applications and MNR’s plans to address their concerns in the 2005/2006 Annual Report, Neglecting our Obligations.

The Ontario Aggregate Resources Corporation (TOARC), an industry association, is responsible for managing rehabilitation of the approximately 6,900 abandoned pit and quarry sites across the province. Concerns about the low rates of rehabilitation of abandoned sites and TOARC’s capacity to manage this responsibility were discussed in Neglecting our Obligations and Doing Less with Less.

Conservation of aggregate resources

In response to numerous comments about the lack of conservation of aggregate resources, MNR notes that most concrete and asphalt is reclaimed and reused on-site during road construction and that provincial road specifications allow the use of alternative materials, such as crushed glass. However, the ECO and others have been disappointed that the use of alternative materials is voluntary and still the exception rather than the rule. In his remarks on the release of Thinking Beyond the Near and Now in 2003, the Environmental Commissioner observed that most demolition debris and construction wastes in Toronto are disposed at Tommy Thompson Park (Leslie St. Spit) and that glass is landfilled. The ECO discussed MNR’s approach and progress on developing an aggregate conservation strategy in the 2005/2006 Annual Report, Neglecting our Obligations.

Long-term resource planning

In 2001/2002, MNR acknowledged that it was unable to properly conduct long-term planning; had poor information on Ontario’s aggregate volumes; and had lost expertise critical to assessing potential impacts of extraction activities on water resources. In his remarks on the release of Thinking Beyond the Near and Now in 2003, the Environmental Commissioner noted that apparently isolated decisions by city planners, MTO, the Ministry of the Environment (MOE), and MNR all interrelate to shape the environmental impacts of aggregate extraction on our landscape. In 2006, the ECO invited representatives from the aggregates industry, provincial ministries, municipalities and the ENGO community to participate in the round table, “Towards a Long-Term Aggregate Strategy for Ontario.” As noted in Neglecting our Obligations, the participants discussed the need for – and possible components of – a long-term aggregate strategy for Ontario.

Geographic Scope of the ARA

Although aggregate operations throughout southern Ontario are subject to the ARA, aggregate operations in only very limited areas of northern Ontario are subject to the ARA. In 1998, two applicants used their EBR review rights to explain that unregulated aggregate extraction in their northern community was causing environmental harm. As discussed in our 1998 Annual Report, Open Doors, MNR denied their request noting that it already has a policy of designating all areas with significant aggregate resources. In fact, several years later MNR quickly designated a different area, the Michipicoten area of Lake Superior, in response to numerous concerns about a proposed quarry. MNR’s handling of these concerns was described in our 2004/2005 Annual Report, Planning our Landscape.

<metadesc>Ontario ministries responsible for the Aggregate Resources Act, rehabilitation of aggregate sites, conservation of aggregate resources, long-term resource planning</metadesc>