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How ‘Clean Fill’ Became a Dirty Word

Sheep farmer Doug Cox says filling the gullies on his property to increase his herd and improve his profits is a normal farm practice. But in the absence of regulatory oversight, neighbours fear soil and water contamination. Photo by Pete Paterson.

IN THE HILLS

By Tim Shuff

With a proposal to flatten his farm fields, a Mono farmer stepped squarely into the centre an environmental hornets’ nest.

When you look across Doug Cox’s farm from the corner of Mono Centre Road and 5th Line, all you see are gently rolling green fields, not the two gullies hiding in the back corner of the property. They’re not much bigger than a rural building lot, but these hollows are deep, steep and all but bare – a pox on the otherwise pastoral property, and a persistent stress on the mind and pocketbook of this sheep farmer.

The sandy slopes do not hold topsoil. Grass grows in thin patches. They’re too steep to work with machinery, and too dangerous for grazing sheep. The forest on the other side of the property line that cuts through the gullies hides opportunistic coyotes who steal ewes and lambs under the eyes of the patrolling sheepdogs. On a property that’s only 43 acres – small for a working farm – these seven acres sit idle.

So when someone came to Cox, 68, with the idea of filling them in, he was keen. After 35 years of living with these worthless hollows, he was enthused by the possibility of filling and grading them flat enough that he could work the land with machinery and grow hay. The plan would allow him to increase his sheep herd and make his farm more profitable. He would also net a payoff for taking the fill. All he needed was approval from Mono town council.

It was at that point Cox planted both feet squarely into a hornets’ nest of an issue that is bedevilling rural municipalities across the Greater Golden Horseshoe – how to deal with the vast and increasing quantities of fill being generated by the region’s building boom.

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Grassy Narrows sues Ontario over mercury health threat from clearcut logging

Ground breaking case invokes Charter to protect First Nation community from toxic harm

 

FOR IMMEDIATE RELEASE 

Toronto – Today the Grassy Narrows First Nation is filing legal proceedings against Ontario asking the Divisional Court to overturn provincial plans for a decade of clearcut logging on Grassy Narrows’ homeland. 

This small Indigenous community fears that clearcut logging will release mercury into local waterways further poisoning local fish and people who already bear the burden of mercury that was dumped into their river by a paper mill in the 1960s.  Grassy Narrows alleges that the logging plan will prolong and deepen the ongoing tragedy of mercury poisoning in their community and therefore violates their Charter rights to security and freedom from discrimination.  This could become the first case to successfully use the Canadian Charter of Rights and Freedoms to protect people against harm and discrimination arising from environmental degradation.

“It saddens me that we are forced to fight in court to protect our children from the dangerous mercury impacts of clearcut logging,” said Grassy Narrow Chief Roger Fobister Sr.  “I hope that the court will finally end Ontario’s long legacy of forcing harmful decisions on our families and our homeland.”

Scientific research indicates that clearcut logging in the boreal forest can raise mercury levels in local fish above the limit for safe human consumption. Many of the lakes in areas where logging will take place already faces fish consumption restrictions due to the past industrial dumping of mercury. Despite this evidence, Ontario refused Grassy Narrows’ request for an environmental assessment of the impacts of clearcut logging on the health of the community, its waterways, and its fish.  The 1,200 plus page logging plan approved by Ontario does not even contain the word ‘mercury’.

After repeated attempts to convince Ontario to withdraw the clearcut logging plan, today Grassy Narrows commenced an application for judicial review in the Ontario Divisional Court.  Among other things, the application asks the Court to overturn the government’s approval of the clearcut logging plan, and refusal to conduct an individual environmental assessment of the mercury impacts of the plan.

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Fall Public Consultations - Add Your Voice!

 

Review of the Conservation Authorities Act

The province has initiated its review of the Act, with a process very similar to the one involving the Greenbelt: a high-level concept paper has been posted to the Environmental Registry; public discussions are planned; and draft changes will be posted for further consideration at a later date.  The paper and contact info can be found on the Environmental Registry (posting # 012-4509).  

This proposal has been posted for a 91 day public review and comment period starting July 20, 2015 - please submit your comments by October 19, 2015.  All comments received by the deadline will be considered as part of the decision-making process by the Ministry if they are submitted in writing or electronically using the form provided in this notice and reference EBR Registry number 012-4509.

 

Wetland Conservation

Similar to the approach above, the Province has posted a wetland conservation discussion paper on the Environmental Registry (posting # 012-4464).  It is a high-level document; “listening sessions” are being held; and a draft set of policies should be posted at a later date for further consultation.

Locations and dates of the listening sessions include:

· Ottawa, September 16th:  RA Centre, 2451 Riverside Drive, Ottawa  6:30 - 8:00 PM

· Toronto, September 23rd:  Black Creek Village, 1000 Murray Ross Parkway, Toronto  6:30 - 8:00 PM

· Thunder Bay, September 29th:  Valhalla Inn, 1 Valhalla Inn Road, Thunder Bay  6:30 - 8:00 PM

· London, October 6th:  London Public Library, 3200 Wonderland Rd S, London  6:30 - 8:00 PM

· North Bay, October 8th:  Discovery North Bay Museum, 100 Ferguson Street, North Bay  6:30 - 8:00 PM

· Niagara Falls, October 14th:  Gale Centre 4171 4th Avenue, Niagara Falls  6:30 - 8:00 PM

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Save Wolf Lake: Expedition 2 Recap - Summer 2015

Cliffside Sunset

On July 18th, 2015 a group of four made the journey north along rugged logging roads to the shores of Wolf Lake and the majestic stands of old-growth red pine. The goal of this trip was to continue the visual documentation of this at-risk area that began three years ago.

This team was led by the Creative Director of the Wolf Lake Coalition, Rob Nelson, and also included photographer and videography Christoph Benfey of Low Key Studio in Hamilton, and volunteers James Horner and Ian Muller.

Wolf Lake Expedition 2 placed a greater emphasis on videography, and the variety and volume of equipment transported into basecamp allowed for the collection of an impressive selection of creative and visually stunning footage (we're keeping most of it under our hats for now).

Read the full story and check out the spectacular photos here.

A native crisis by water – and mercury

Globe and Mail Editorial

 

From 1962 to 1970, Reed Paper’s pulp and chemical mill at Dryden, Ont., near the Manitoba border, dumped its waste into the Wabigoon River and on into the English River and ultimately Hudson Bay. That effluent contained mercury – which was used for bleaching paper. By one estimate, 9,000 kilograms of methyl mercury were put into the river system.

So the mercury in turn found its way into the fish that were the major staple of the people of the remote Grassy Narrows and Whitedog reserves. Severe neurological and birth defects resulted. The nearest major hospital is in Winnipeg, a three-hour drive.

The mercury poisoning was recognized long ago, but the two First Nations understandably continued to eat their local fish and drink the water from their lakes and rivers.

A similar horror was detected in Japan in the city of Minamata in 1956, and it was Japanese scientists who ascertained in 1975 that Grassy Narrows was suffering from a version now called Ontario Minamata disease.

The people of Grassy Narrows were financially compensated, with about $17-million, in 1985, but that’s far from being the end of the story.

It has now emerged that the mercury levels in parts of the English-Wabigoon river system are actually rising, 45 years later. In some areas, the mercury content is twice the threshold for remediation. One approach, called “natural recovery,” is evidently not enough. Natural recovery appears to mean doing very little or nothing and waiting for the ecosystem to cleanse itself – laissez-faire in a literal sense.

To read more click here.

 

Other links on this story:

 
 
Press release and report: FreeGrassy.net
 

The Oak Ridges Moraine needs you - add your voice!

Show your support for increased protection of the Oak Ridges Moraine and the Greenbelt by Thursday, May 28th.

The 2015 review of the Growth Plan for the Greater Golden Horseshoe, Greenbelt Plan, Oak Ridges Moraine Conservation Plan and Niagara Escarpment Plan is underway.

These vital areas support healthy communities in southern Ontario by providing food, clean water and wildlife habitat - yet they are still under threat from urban sprawl, contaminated fill, quarries and new highway development.

This is your chance to advocate for stronger protection of these critical lands.  

Please click on the link above to send a message to the government - your voice will make a difference!

Click here for more information about the review process.

 

Learn more about our Moraine for 2015 campaign here.

Photo courtesy of Kim Lowes.

Grassy Narrows: It’s not too late for the Ontario government to do the right thing

FOR IMMEDIATE RELEASE

 

In a joint statement issued today, 16 social justice organizations, faith groups, trade unions, and environmental organizations are calling on Ontario Premier Kathleen Wynne to immediately withdraw the provinces 10 year plan for clearcut logging on the traditional territory of the Grassy Narrows First Nation.

The organizations are particularly alarmed by the province
s refusal to conduct an environmental impact assessment of its logging plans, despite acknowledgement that runoff from clearcutting could lead to the introduction of more mercury into the river system.

In the 1960s, the province allowed an upstream pulp and paper mill to dump massive quantities of mercury into the river. The river system has never been cleaned up and the people of Grassy Narrows are still dealing with a severe health crisis.

Read the joint statement here.

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Groups urge public involvement in review of Oak Ridges Moraine and Greenbelt plans

FOR IMMEDIATE RELEASE

Toronto, ON – This afternoon the provincial government launched the much anticipated public review of the plans that protect the Oak Ridges Moraine, Niagara Escarpment and Greenbelt. This review is an important opportunity to strengthen these plans to further protect water, nature and communities in the Greater Golden Horseshoe.

"When these plans were first introduced over 10 years ago, they represented the leading edge in conservation planning and protection of our invaluable land and water resources," says Debbe Crandall, policy advisor for Save the Oak Ridges Moraine (STORM) Coalition. “This review positions the province to re-commit to a strong environmental agenda by strengthening these plans and eliminating policy gaps that have emerged, with the goal of leaving a protected landscape for the next generation of Ontarians,” she adds.

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Ontario’s biologists called clear-cut logging plan ‘big step backwards’

Earthroots says scientists’ comments in 2010 reveal ‘heated debate’ about the mercury impact of clear-cutting on fish and human health.

The Star,


Grassy Narrows is a community of about 1,500 near Kenora, Ont., and was the site of mercury poisoning in the 1960s after a paper mill dumped 10 tonnes of the heavy metal into the river system in the 1960s. The community is now concerned clear-cut logging will increase mercury levels in local fish, a traditional dietary staple.

Photo: FreeGrassy.net

Grassy Narrows is a community of about 1,500 near Kenora, Ont., and was the site of mercury poisoning in the 1960s after a paper mill dumped 10 tonnes of the heavy metal into the river system in the 1960s. The community is now concerned clear-cut logging will increase mercury levels in local fish, a traditional dietary staple.

 

Ontario’s fisheries biologists were scathing about a guide approved in 2010 that laid out conditions for controversial clear-cut logging across the province, with some calling it a “big step backwards,” according to documents obtained through freedom of information requests.

When a regional director with the Ministry of Natural Resources and Forestry complained about its inadequate review process, he was told there was pressure from senior management and industry to move fast.

Four years after the guide was approved, Ontario gave the go-ahead to its 10-year provincial logging plan one year ago.

Environmental agency Earthroots obtained the documents from the ministry a few days after the province rejected a request from Grassy Narrows, a First Nations reserve about 80 kilometres north of Kenora, for an individual environmental assessment into the impact of clear-cut logging on that community.

To read the full article click here.

 

Thank you for another great year.

 

Thanks to the support from people like you, Earthroots was able to achieve numerous conservation victories in 2014:

Grassy Narrows – We convinced EACOM, one of Ontario's largest lumber companies, to avoid using conflict wood from Grassy Narrows.  Read the article in The Star here.

Temagami – Earthroots and our partners brought all old growth logging in Temagami to a standstill for six months with a request for an Individual Environmental Assessment.

Wolf Lake – Mining claims in the Wolf Lake Forest Reserve began expiring for the first time in 15 years thanks to pressure from our Wolf Lake Coalition.  Visit the Save Wolf Lake website here.

Wolves – We re-launched the Wolves Ontario campaign to build on past successes for improved grey and eastern wolf management (look for our new Wolves Ontario website in 2015!).

Oak Ridges Moraine – Through major media coverage, Earthroots brought much needed attention to the issue of contaminated soil being dumped on the Moraine.  Read the article in The Star here.

Tools for Change – Earthroots and our partners hosted 20 training workshops and through the program over 400 people developed their skills to advocate for social and environmental justice this year.  Visit the Tools for Change website here.

 

Thank you for your support - we wish you and yours all the best in the New Year!

 

ON says ‘no’ to environmental assessment of clearcut mercury impacts in Grassy Narrows

Science indicates that clearcuts will deepen the tragedy of mercury poisoning

FOR IMMEDIATE RELEASE

 

Read the coverage in The Star and on CBC.

Listen to the piece on CBC's radio program, Up North.

 

Grassy Narrows – On the night before Christmas Grassy Narrows First Nation received notice that Ontario is rejecting the community’s request for an Individual Environmental Assessment of the mercury impacts from the controversial final plan for clearcut logging on their homeland.  Grassy Narrows is concerned that the planned clearcut logging will harm the health of their families by raising mercury poison levels in local fish – a traditional staple.  

Ontario's logging plan makes no mention of mercury, and contains no special measures to account for the fact that Grassy Narrows’ homeland is the site of Canada’s most infamous case of mercury poisoning arising from 9,000 kg of mercury that was dumped into their river by a paper mill upstream in the 1960’s.  Scientific studies indicate that clearcut logging in the boreal forest can raise mercury in fish to unsafe levels. 

“Ontario has ignored our voices and is planning to force more devastating clearcuts on our people without even applying their own Individual Environmental Assessment process,” said Joseph Fobister, a Grassy Narrows land-user and businessman.  “It makes me sad that our people will become even sicker if the government allows the logging industry to poison the fish that we eat.”

“I am disheartened by this hurtful decision,” said Chief Roger Fobister Sr. of Grassy Narrows.  “It seems that our health and our culture do not matter to the government as they attempt to force their clearcut plans on us.  The only honourable way forward here is to work together to gain our agreement before our land and water are used.” 

Read more...

Friend of the Greenbelt Award 2014

The 2014 winners of the Friend of the Greenbelt Award. From Left to right: Glenn De Baeremaeker from Save the Rouge Valley System; Debbe Crandall from STORM CoalitionCaroline Schultz from Ontario Nature; Amber Ellis from Earthroots; and Steve Gilchrist, former Cabinet Minister. 

 

At high noon on a beautiful November day, close to a hundred Ontarians gathered at Hart House’s Great Hall to acknowledge the significant contribution that five individuals have made to the protection of the Oak Ridges Moraine.

Through their work to protect this significant ecological feature, Glenn De Baeremaeker, Debbe Crandall, Amber Ellis, Steve Gilchrist, and Caroline Schultz are characterized by an enthusiastic commitment to the values which demonstrate that possibility does indeed grow in Ontario’s Greenbelt.

The natural hydrological system of the Oak Ridges Moraine is vital to the health and well-being of Ontarians.  About 40 significant rivers and streams flow south to Lake Ontario from their headwaters in the Oak Ridges Moraine, providing clean water for millions of Ontarians.

A special congratulations goes out to these five winners for their steadfast dedication to this critical feature of the Ontario landscape.

Toxic dirt dumped in Ontario’s prime farmland

The Star 

 

With lax rules and no tracking system, Ontario sits idly while Toronto’s contaminated dirt is dumped in the countryside.

Toronto’s construction boom is unearthing massive volumes of soil contaminated with dangerous heavy metals and petroleum, but it’s nearly impossible to know where the dirt is going because Ontario doesn’t track it.

Instead, thousands of tonnes of toxic earth taken to prime farmland from downtown condominium projects are usually discovered accidentally — by neighbours who report bad odours from soil that is supposed to be “clean.”

Long-term, experts warn of contamination of agricultural land and groundwater, often in the Greenbelt or Oak Ridges Moraine.

...

Now, groups like Lakeridge Citizens for Clean Water, Earthroots and Save the Oak Ridges Moraine are demanding the tough regulations of a “clean soil act.” They’re seeking rigorous laws that include soil tracking, a definition for “clean” dirt and rules to govern where contaminants are taken.

“The GTA is surrounded by the best farming land and drinking water sources and we will be polluting it for generations if the government continues to turn a blind eye to this problem,” said Earthroots’ Josh Garfinkel.

Click here to read the full article.

Watch a piece on Global News here.