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GravelWatch Ontario

 

 

   

   

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Ed's Ontario’s Ministry of Natural Resources (MNR) has revised its operations manual for controlling gravel (aggregate) pits/quarries.  The proposed change in the manual, designated number PB05E6006 in the Ontario Environmental Bill of Rights (EBR) registry, can be found here:

            http://www.ene.gov.on.ca/envregistry/025372ep.htm

 

The name of the proposed manual is: Policies and Procedures Manual for the Administration of the Aggregate Resources Act (herein called the “proposed manual”). Any comments on the proposed manual are due July 30, 2005, which is very soon for any reasonably considered comments.

 

The proposed manual is an essential part of the control of Ontario’s pits/quarries, as it effectively tells the Aggregate officers what they should or should not do about how pits/quarries run.  Here are some advantages and conclusions regarding the proposed manual:

 

Advantages of proposed manual.  It appears that the advantages of the proposed manual include:

a)      It replaces what appears to be a largely disparate and uncollected set of policies/procedures..

b)      It seems to be well organized and written for clarity.

c)      It seems to be more or less up to date.

d)      It is presumably to be made available in electronic form, ideally on the web, thereby making it reasonably accessible to the public --- and thus much more accessible that the previous, scattered policies/procedures.

 

Tentative conclusions and observations.  Here are some tentative conclusions and observations about the proposed manual:

1)      It is huge (MNR says 840 pages, with 180 policies/procedures). 

2)      It seems unlikely that the public can produce a reasonable response to this proposal in the allocated time (until 30 July 2005).

3)      Although the MNR EBR announcement says the manual is “updated” or “revised”, it is apparently largely a new manual, with no immediately preceding manual.  Added later: Apparently the preceding version of this manual was created before 1996, i.e., before Bill 52 which significantly changed the Aggregate Resources Act.  Hence that preceding versions is signficantly obsolete and have been for many years.

4)      It appears that the proposed manual incorporates many newly drafted or previously unknown policies and procedures, which have not been previously seen by the public.

5)      It is not clear to what extent the industry and its lobby organization have had an early view of the proposed manual or the material in it.  The lobbyist/industrial group is the Aggregate Producers’ Association of Ontario (APAO) with The Ontario Aggregate Resources Corporation (TOARC,  wholly owned by APAO). It seems reasonable to guess that APAO/TOARC had previous knowledge, as a number of policies explicitly involve TOARC.  If so, then it would appear that APAO has had an unwarranted opportunity to influence the content of the proposed manual.

 

What is New and What is Old in the Proposed Manual?

 

MNR states (see http://www.ene.gov.on.ca/envregistry/025372ep.htm) that this manual is a “revision” or “update”.  The previous manual is apparently: Aggregate Resources Program Policies, Procedures and Bulletins for the Administration of the Aggregate Resources Act and Ontario Regulation 702/89.  Probably the 89 in 702/89 indicates that it was done in 1989, which makes it obsolete under Bill 52 (1996) which significantly changed the Aggregate Resources Act (1989).  The implication is that since 1996, when Bill 52 became effective, MNR has been operating with a manual that does not correspond to the law in effect.  (Added later:  A scan of the previous manual indicates that it was updated a number of times since its creation.  However, it is not clear to what extent these updates brought it into agreement with the ARA as amended by Bill 52.) The new manual is apparently intended to correct this problem.

 

MNR says: “The committee, in drafting this manual, made use of the various procedural guidelines, directives, memorandums, forms and checklists used by the districts throughout the province.”  MNR has made no list of these sources to the public.  The proposed manual says “Specific policies and procedures have been drafted to cover as many aspects of the legislation as possible.”

 

Without a clear understanding of what is new in the proposed manual and what is merely collected or reworded, the public will have a difficult time providing well considered comments on the proposed manual.

 

MNR sources estimate that around 20% of the manual is new or different from the previous manual.  MNR has suggested that they can provide copies of the old manual to their district officers, e.g., Guelph, for access by the public.

 

Three Examples of Areas of Concern

 

The proposed manual is huge: 840 pages according to MNR.  Not only does it need to be studied as a document on its own, it also cross cuts a number of visible and ongoing concerns regarding MNR’s management of the aggregate business of Ontario.  Next comes a short description of three such areas of concern, each of which requires significant study to see how these areas are affected by and changed by the proposed manual.

 

Example Concern 1: Rehabilitation

 

In November 2003, Ric Holt submitted a Request for Review under the Environmental Bill of Rights (EBR) to the MNR, which the MNR subsequently accepted, to consider the apparent failure of the industry to carry out rehabilitation as required by the Aggregate Resources Act (ARA).  Up to this point, after more than a year and half later, MNR has produced no such review.  Since the proposed manual lists a number of policies/procedure regarding rehabilitation, MNR should make clear which of these are newly drafted and which were already reworded, and the relation of these to Holt’s Request for Review. Without this information the public (Holt in particular) is left in the dark as to MNR actions and intentions regarding rehabilitation.

 

In 2005, Pembina submitted a Request for Review to MNR regarding rehabilitation.  The Pembina Rreport with its accompanying analysis of rehabilitation, sets a standard for completeness and comprehensiveness regarding rehabilitation in Ontario.  The MNR should clarify the relation between its rejection of Pembina’s submission and the procedures/policies on rehabilitation in the proposed manual.  Pembina and readers of the Pembina report should understand the extent to which MNR considered (or did not consider) the Pembina material.

 

Example Concern 2: Backdoor Deals

 

A matter of considerable public interest, notably in the press regarding Puslinch Township, is the extent to which MNR can or should unilaterally change a site plan, after the plan has been agreed to by a Township.  These changes have come to be called “backdoor” deals, as they evade official input from the public and from Townships.  Presumably,  policies/procedures in the proposed manual tell Aggregate Officers how to deal with this matter.  It would seem to require significant effort on the part of the public to determine what these policies/procedures are, how they have been newly created or changed, and how they correspond to the positions of various concerned parties.

 

Example Concern 3: Relationship of APAO to MNR

 

Among the public there is significant concern about the degree to which the lobbyist/industrial organization APAO, with its wholly owned subsidiary TOARC, operates as a partner with MNR.  Ric Holt submitted a request for audit to the MNR to establish whether the APAO/TOARC/MNR relationship is in the general good, questioning the means by which this partnership was established and the degree to which it institutionalizes or legitimizes conflict of interest.  The MNR rejected Holt’s request, stating simply that the arrangement is legal.   The proposed manual contains a number of policies/procedures relating to TOARC and hence to MNR and APAO.  The public needs to understand to what extent these are new, modified or old policies and how they affect the MNR/APAO partnership.  This may require significant study for a reasonable set of comments.

 

How to Proceed?

 

What reasonable action and position should we as citizen’s affected by the aggregate industry take with regard to the proposed manual? Ideally we should examine the 840 pages with 180 polices/procedures and provide a careful analysis of this material.  It seems highly unlikely that this is feasible with the available time.  This seems to leave two possibilities:

 

1)      Concentrate on a few concerns.  We the public could limit our attention to some key parts, e.g., the MNR/APAO partnership, or rehabilitation, and comment particularly on the corresponding policies/procedures.

2)      Protest the EBR posting.  We could protest the infeasibility of a reasonable public comment given the time to comment by 30 July 2005.

 

We need to decide how to proceed as soon as possible.  Note added later: The current plan is to follow point (1), i.e., to concentrate on a few concertns.

 

References

 

Pembina on rehabilitation. http://www.pembina.org/publications_item.asp?id=179

Holt on rehabilitation. http://plg.uwaterloo.ca/~holt/pit/rehab/rehab-general.htm

Holt on audit of TOARC. http://plg.uwaterloo.ca/~holt/pit/audit/

GravelWatch. http://www.gravelwatch.org

 

Addendum: Electronic Version of Standards

 

Interestingly, with the material on the proposed manual, MNR has attached an electronic version of the standards for aggregate pits/quarries.  Up to now these standards have been somewhat inaccessible, being available only in book form, at a cost of around $50.  Ideally, MNR will put this material on a generally available website in the near future.  This would be an important service,  making this information more easily available to both the public and the industry.