Plans to expand an existing sand pit about six kilometres northeast of Dorset into an approximately 52-acre quarry brought more than 100 people to the Dorset Rec Centre last weekend for a public meeting held by representatives of John Bacher Construction Limited.
David Villard of Pebble Beach Aggregate and Kathleen Hedley, a former director and policy advisor for the Ontario Ministry of the Environment and Climate Change, mediated the information session on behalf of Eric Doetsch, co-owner of John Bacher Construction, who was also in attendance. Doetsch voluntarily held the meeting after an unanticipated number of public concerns were raised regarding the project’s size, scope and impact on the surrounding environment and community.
Nine Harvey Lake property owners were the original recipients of a public notice distributed by consultants hired by Bacher Construction as directed by the Ministry of Natural Resources and Forestry (MNRF) earlier in the month informing them that the quarry development application had been made in the geographic township of McClintock in Algonquin Highlands. The notice is part of the aggregate permit process and gives a 30-day window, ending Aug. 8, for comments on the project before documentation of attempts to resolve objections during the notification and consultation process is submitted for further review by the MNRF. The planned site of extraction is about 750 to 800 metres from the closest residence at the start of the project, but is about 300 metres from the nearest cottage as extraction progresses. The public notice was shared with other area residents, including those on Kawagama and Otter Lakes via word of mouth and social media, and a website created to oppose the quarry, called the situation a “David and Goliath” battle.
“For me, I completely understand why the residents of Harvey Lake may be concerned about this,” said Doetsch at the meeting. “I too would be concerned if I received such a letter. I’m told it’s part of the process. I wouldn’t want blasting, crushing, 24-7, 10 trucks an hour, in proximity to my property. But that’s not what we’re proposing at all. [We’ve] heard your concerns, we understand them, and we want to address them as a community, with dialogue.”
Residents remarked on the fairness of the application process, which is government regulated, noting that it wasn’t “citizen-friendly” and they can’t afford independent consultants for further studies. Many voiced skepticism of the potential bias from consultants doing environmental and noise analysis studies and MNRF’s concern for the area. Numerous times, however, residents thanked Doetsch for his willingness to understand and mitigate concerns about the future use of the pit.
“Nobody is calling anybody’s character into question,” stressed one resident. “We totally trust you in terms of the integrity of the business and your history. That is not in question by this community. What is in question are the probablies and the maybes and the possibilities, that maybe you as a steward would do certain things, but there is no guarantee for this community [should management change hands].”
During a question and answer period, people in attendance discussed concerns and pushed for answers on issues including groundwater impact, increased truck traffic, opportunity for nearby Indigenous Peoples to respond to the proposal and the impact of habitat fragmentation in efforts to protect endangered Blanding’s turtles. Confusion surrounding clarified proposal information that had changed since the original notice was distributed including hours of operation from being 24/7 to 7 a.m. to 7 p.m., and tonnage allowance from 285,000 tonnes per year to 75,000 tonnes per year, was clarified by Doetsch, who said those details were suggested by consultants and didn’t reflect his planned operations. He noted consultants had told him the application process to expand the pit would be expensive and that he should include a proposed quarry to ensure he wouldn’t have to go through the application process again. He decreased that number to reflect the 10,000 tonnes he was planning to extract, while keeping the number high enough to ensure he wouldn’t miss out on potentially larger proposals. Currently, about 6,000 to 8,000 tonnes of material is extracted from the sand pit annually.
“[285,000 tonnes per year] is not my intention,” he said. “That’s what the quarry is capable of, but that’s absolutely not my intentions. And that’s why we decreased it right away without question.”
“Then why not 50,000 if that’s the case?” asked a Harvey Lake resident. “The question is, why stop at 75,000, why not push it even further? I think it’s our job here to push you on that, to see if you would drop that number down.”
“You’re absolutely right, and I will think about it,” responded Doetsch. “This is all coming together so quick. I dropped it right away to 75,000 because I noticed that and I was shocked myself.”
Consultants on the project were not able to attend, which annoyed some of the residents at the meeting who said they had made the time on the weekend to be available and wanted detailed questions answered.
“The biggest challenge with this project is that the information varies day to day,” said one resident who stepped up to the microphone to ask questions. “I’m so disappointed that the consultants who do have the information and the technical know-how that could ease our fears – that’s what it is, our fears – aren’t here today. For all of us, we made the time.”
Doetsch responded to worries about uncontrolled fly rock – potentially hazardous fragments of rock thrown into the air during blasting – by citing his 30-plus-year safety record even despite blasting “in the centre of communities.”
“I don’t know why you think I would want to risk my livelihood, everything I’ve worked toward my entire life, to damage or hurt or kill somebody,” he said. “We have worked responsibly in this community for over 30 years. Our aim is to be responsible in everything we do, and that includes hiring people out to work for us. If I were to kill or hurt somebody, my career would be over. It is in my absolute best interest to make sure safety is priority one.”
But despite the concerns of residents who felt there would be negative impacts on the land as a direct result of the project, the July 29 meeting, save for a few heated moments, remained relatively calm and congenial. Residents and Doetsch tried to work out issues, find answers to questions related to details of the proposal and make concessions in the proposal to alleviate some concerns. The meeting was scheduled for two hours, but audience members helped Doetsch stack chairs after time ran out, so he could meet with them to further answer questions.
Councillors Brian Lynch and Marlene Kyle were in attendance at the public meeting. During a July 20 council meeting the previous week, Algonquin Highlands Mayor Carol Moffatt stressed the township has no control over the application. “We don’t have the opportunity to vote yea or nay on it,” she said. “It’s provincial jurisdiction.”
The township was planning to request that a pavement durability review be conducted for the township-owned road in the area, and that any necessary upgrading be performed, as well as load restrictions be put in place. Should the application be approved by the province, the township will also request that a noise study, blasting impact analysis and other documentation be incorporated into the certificate of approval.
Bacher Construction has been in operation since 1976. It employs approximately 25 people, and services areas throughout Muskoka and Haliburton County.
A website created by concerned citizens can be found at www.nomcclintockquarry.ca.
For more information on the project or to submit comments, contact Jeff Schosser, MNRF aggregate inspector, at 705-646-5526 or firstname.lastname@example.org or David Villard at email@example.com or via phone at 705-840-0733.