Obtaining a License for a Pit or Quarry in Ontario: What to Expect
There are a number of areas in Ontario that are rich in aggregate deposits and bedrock formations. If you happen to own property within an area that has been identified as having aggregate potential you may be contemplating developing the land as a pit or quarry. There is certainly a high demand for aggregate materials of all types, and an active pit or quarry can be quite lucrative, depending on the product. However, there are many things to consider when pursuing a license to extract material under the Aggregate Resources Act.
Is My Property an Ideal Candidate for a Quarry/Pit?
Firstly, is your property a good candidate for aggregate development? You may know that there is quality product located on your property. But there are other questions you should be asking, such as:
1) How far is my property from the nearest house or commercial property (sensitive land use)?
2) Is my property on, or in close proximity to a major arterial road (haul route)? (i.e. major County Road, Provincial Highway)
3) Are there other operations in close proximity?
4) Are there any wetlands, creeks, or other environmental features on the property?
These are the types of questions to be asking beyond “is there some rock buried under there?” The location of pits and quarries is focused in the areas where there is marketable aggregate. There are undoubtedly locations that are more suitable than others, especially when considering property characteristics beyond the geological aspects. For example, a property that’s located 150 metres from a subdivision would not be a good candidate for aggregate development.
Time and Cost
If you discover that your property is suitable for a quarry or pit, then be prepared for a lengthy and costly process. Your property will most likely require an Official Plan amendment and Zoning By-law amendment*. These amendments will change the designation and zoning on your property to a designation and zone that permit the extraction of aggregates. You also must apply for a license to extract material. This license is applied for through the MNR under the Aggregate Resources Act. The MNR will require (alongside technical studies) detailed site plans that show the existing conditions of the property, the plans for operation, and the plans for progressive rehabilitation of the site after all of the material has been exhausted. Both processes include public consultation and can take several years to complete.
In terms of cost, the bulk is split between consultant fees (including your own consultants AND the municipality’s consultants that will review your consultant’s work.), and municipal, provincial and agency application fees and deposits. You will be required by the municipality and the MNR to undertake various studies, including studies that show the pit or quarry’s effect on the groundwater (hydrogeology) and the environment (Environmental Impact Study). You will also be required to undertake an Archaeological Assessment (like Stage I and II) of the lands. Depending on the size of the pit or quarry and the material being extracted, you may also be required to submit studies that measure the noise or vibrations emitted from the property during extraction (Noise/Vibration Study), and the effect of the pit or quarry’s in/out traffic on the existing local traffic and road network (Traffic Impact Study).
However, these costs are only a part of the total costs. In recent years, municipalities and conservation authorities (CA) have increased planning fees related to quarries. Some aggregate-rich municipalities will charge up to $1,500-2,000 per hectare for any Planning Act application that involves a new quarry or pit. Therefore, in this instance, a quarry or pit with a licensed area of 30 hectares would require a fee of $45,000-$60,000. However, these fees vary greatly from municipality to municipality and from CA to CA.
In terms of time, the technical studies will take a few months to complete. Once the applications for the planning amendments are submitted, the review process can take upwards of 4-5 months before a public meeting or open house is held, depending on the municipality. All of the technical reports will be peer reviewed, as well. The entire peer review process will take at least an additional 8-10 months. Overall, depending on the reaction from the public and Council (see below), the planning process can take upwards of at least 2 years to complete.
So, you’re OK with the costs and the time? Well, you’ll also need some thick skin and patience, too.
It is quite likely that your quarry or pit proposal will be met with resistance from the public. Many people oppose pits and quarries because they anticipate negative impacts from the operation. It often seems that technical studies do little to address their concerns, as public opposition usually involves a NIMBY** mentality. The public meeting and open house usually attract a wide variety of residents in opposition to a quarry or pit, including environmentalists, rate payer associations, and NIMBYs. Responding to one or two people in opposition is manageable, but a large, loud and angry group can certainly sway municipal councils to the opposition side, no matter the justification for the proposal. In our experience, municipal Councillors, with the understanding that a developer can appeal their decision to the Ontario Municipal Board^, may ignore the recommendations of their staff in order to appease a few angry residents. Do not underestimate the power of the angry mob in the face of politicians, even when the mob is not armed with pitchforks and scythes.
This is not to say that all aggregate applications should be approved and should never be opposed. There are, of course, some pits and quarries that are not suitable at their proposed location. The approvals processes are designed to determine whether an aggregate license is appropriate at a particular location. However, the overall negative reaction to quarries and pits, regardless of site suitability, has created an environment in which the line between perception and reality is blurred.
This is disconcerting, since aggregates are integral to the construction industry within Ontario, particularly the GTA, where the supply of aggregate material is disappearing quickly. Materials taken from the ground such as crushed stone, granite, limestone, gravel and sand are used in the construction of roads, houses, apartment buildings, and even hygiene products such as toothpaste. In simple terms, aggregates are vital to everyday life. This is why the Provincial Policy Statement directs municipalities to protect aggregate reserves for future extraction. The province recognizes that we need aggregates desperately. And with rising transportation costs, they must be located as close to the markets as possible. For these reasons, the development of a quarry or pit, in most cases, makes good planning sense. Yet the perception of quarries and pits in the eyes of the general public make what should otherwise be a smooth process that much more cumbersome.
So, if you have a property that has aggregate potential and you’d like to develop a quarry or pit, it is important to understand that the process takes time, will cost a good chunk of money, and will most likely be met with some resistance from the public. However, the obstacles that await you are certainly not insurmountable and can be managed with the right people working for you.
*Most municipalities require an Official Plan amendment as it subjects the application to rigorous analysis and public consultation.
**NIMBY = Not in my backyard. A pejorative term used to describe certain people who simply do not want any type of development of any kind near their home or property.
^ While the OMB will make a non-political decision, an appeal requires more time and costs more money for the applicant.