By Sue Tiffin
Published March 29 2018
Concerned residents in the Harvey Lake area have not backed down in their resolution to actively oppose a 35-acre proposed quarry in what they say is not a strategic nor suitable location.
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 last summer informing them that the quarry development application had been made in the geographic township of McClintock in Algonquin Highlands.
A standing-room only public meeting was voluntarily held by Eric Doetsch co-owner of John Bacher Construction last July after an unanticipated number of public concerns were raised regarding the project’s size scope and impact on the surrounding environment and community. In that meeting residents remarked on the fairness of the aggregate permit 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.
The 30-day public comment period part of the aggregate permit process for the application proposed by John Bacher Construction Limited ended Aug. 8 last year but nearby residents on Harvey and Otter Lakes say they are continuing to research best practices in order to amend the proposal or stop the quarry altogether.
Nicole Des Roches whose family had purchased a cottage on Harvey Lake in 2016 and received the letter in 2017 said residents have been pulling together resources to push changes to the proposal which has altered the size and scope of the project. She said thousands of dollars have been spent from residents’ own pockets and it was volunteers she called diligent and tenacious who brought forth information to the proponent about alternate technology and eco-friendly explosives.
Despite the deadline for public comments having passed Des Roches said support is still being garnered from residents. The Save Harvey Lake group has kept up a website and continues to place ads in local newspapers.
“What we’ve experienced as well is the increased concern from residents all over the county and in the township that this could set really a dangerous precedent” she said. “…There is a lot of Crown land that is deemed aggregate-potential land in our area. I think we’re finding that there’s more supporters coming on board because of that.”
Harvey Lake Area Residents (HLAR) have filed objections including that there is potential for noisy and dusty rock crushing all summer long that the aggregate development would permit stripping extraction blasting and crushing in close proximity to wetlands that flow directly into Harvey Lake then Kawagama Lake and then on to Lake of Bays and that airborne particles and contaminants are a concern of residents whose drinking water is currently taken from Harvey Lake.
“We’re private citizens” said Des Roches. “We have no hope for profit at the end of this. We’re doing a great deal of work. We’ll continue that because we think obviously it’s important to do it and nobody else is going to do it. We have to. I would say that we absolutely feel that if we were to step back we would not have a positive result so I think we feel that the majority of responsibility is on us volunteers to protect the area.”
After the public meeting held in July a more private meeting was held in November with residents who had filed an official objection letter to further address concerns. Numerous times in the public meeting residents had thanked Doetsch for his willingness to understand and mitigate concerns about the future use of the pit. But Des Roches said it’s not enough.
“Ultimately if we want to be really honest we do not believe this is a satisfactory location for the quarry” she said. “It has critical wetlands habitats of endangered species upstream from a small lake and it’s far too close to residents including children. We don’t believe this is the right location for the county for the township and of course the area residents. We would like to see Eric John Bacher Construction and the MNRF to all decide this isn’t the appropriate place for a quarry operation.”
Des Roches discounted the idea of NIMBYism saying she wasn’t opposed to local business needs or the need for aggregate but that the location chosen for such operations should be strategic approved away from civilization or near highways already experiencing loud noise volumes.
Just the same the experience has been traumatic for Des Roches and her family who said they had saved to buy what they said is a modest cottage and were crushed to receive the letter soon after taking ownership.
“We’re concerned that what we had hoped would be a generational cottage for years to come won’t be in existence because all it takes is one damaging spill and one water contamination for a quarry that’s uphill” she said.
“This could happen to anyone” she said. “Anybody could get a letter in the mail someone’s put a stake in some Crown land and the next thing they know they have industry knocking on their back door ruining the peace and serenity.”
“At the end of the day the lakes are all interconnected” she said. “Harvey Lake through underground tributaries actually connects into Kawagama on Fletcher Bay. It’s all interconnected.”
David Villard of Pebble Beach Aggregates who serves as Doetsch’s mediator said many of the concerns of the residents have been valid and that Doetsch has done what he could to mitigate those concerns including by reducing the tonnage allowance from 250000 tonnes per year to 75000 tonnes per year and by drafting a groundwater monitoring plan which Villard said isn’t required.
“For me I completely understand why the residents of Harvey Lake may be concerned about this” said Doetsch at last summer’s 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.”
“At this time the company is working to resolve concerns expressed during the consultation period by the public agencies and stakeholders” said Jeff Schosser aggregate inspector technical specialist for the Ministry of Natural Resources and Forestry. “The company will submit documentation of the consultation and concern resolution processes as well as complete the requirements of the Class Environmental Assessment process. When this documentation has been submitted the MNRF will review and assess the materials to determine the appropriate next steps.”
The applicant is expected to submit the document by June 12 this year however Schosser said extensions in complex scenarios are sometimes granted.
“If there are unresolved concerns following the concern resolution process a Notice of Completion is sent to those that expressed concerns as part of the Class EA process” said Schosser. “This notice includes an opportunity for the public to reiterate remaining concerns and if necessary request MOECC to consider a Part II Order (‘bump up’).”
Algonquin Highlands Mayor Carol Moffatt has kept in touch with the landowners but has stressed that while the township can make requests and stressed the highest value of mitigation the province is not obliged to grant any of them. Technically the application does not conform to the township’s zoning bylaw or official plan but the Crown is exempt from having to abide by either.
Bacher Construction has been in operation since 1976. It employs approximately 25 people and services areas throughout Muskoka and Haliburton County. For more information from the Save Harvey Lake group visit nomcclintockquarry.ca or follow the group on Facebook at Saveharveylake
with files from Chad Ingram