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Acton Ontario’s first quarry certified by Cornerstone

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Not only is it one of the oldest quarries in Canada — with roots going back to the 1900s — the Acton quarry has become Ontario’s first quarry to be certified by the Cornerstone Standards Council.

The council is a non-profit, multi-stakeholder agency whose mission is to improve the environment by developing certification standards for the siting and operations of pits and quarries.

Earlier this year, it awarded the certification to the Dufferin Aggregates-owned quarry after a third-party independent auditing firm concluded the quarry adheres to all seven principles of the council’s Responsible Aggregate Standard.

Some of those principles include compliance with all laws, community consultation, environmental site stewardship and resource efficiency and conservation.

Dufferin Aggregates parent company and council member CRH Canada Group Inc. was one of the first firms to express interest in certification. While it paid for the auditing process, the company had no say in the selection of the auditing firm, says Cornerstone Standards Council executive director Nicholas Schulz.

Consisting of a pre-assessment in August and then a full three-day audit in November, the audit was an intensive inspection and monitoring of every aspect of the quarry’s operation, says CRH Canada’s property, planning and approvals director, Kevin Mitchell.

"They (the auditors) took an awful lot of information, took a site tour, interviewed our employees, and interviewed our neighbours, but we don’t know who they were," says Mitchell, referring to the rural property owners who live near and adjacent the quarry.

Located on the outskirts of the community of Acton in the Town of Halton Hills, the quarry is a 220-hectare property producing between one- and three-million tonnes of aggregate annually.

"In recent years it has been more like one million tonnes, as we have been slowing down," says Mitchell, explaining the current licensed quarry only has one year of life left before it is mined out.

An application to expand the quarry by 65 hectares to the north and south, which would produce about 38 tonnes per  year, has been approved by five different agencies following an application process which first commenced in 2008. However, there were objections to the expansion and that will be the subject a joint-board hearing in June, he says.

There are 30 full-time on-site employees, a figure that doesn’t include management and other personnel at CRH’s head office in Concord who are involved in its operation in one way or another. Similar to most quarries, the aggregate is trucked to market by independent haulers hired either by the quarry or its customers, he says.

As Mitchell describes it, the quarry was meeting most of the seven principles of the Responsible Aggregate Standard long before it was implemented. Since 2000 it has sponsored Earth Day events which have included tree planting by Boy Scouts in areas that have been deforested and are now being rehabilitated.

Another example is a community liaison committee that meets four times a year to discuss operational issues. If there are any neighbourhood complaints, each is addressed separately rather than bundled with others, he says.

In other cases, the quarry has made an extra effort to meet the principles, most notably one that emphasizes respect for Aboriginal groups and engaging with them on proposed aggregate operations. Even though there are no First Nations groups in the immediate Acton area, the quarry has conducted site tours for two different groups, the Six Nations of the Grand River and the Mississaugas of the New Credit First Nation.

"They were very interested in the operation."

One of the members of the panel that drafted the Standard was Paul General of the Six Nations.

"There are a lot of good quarry operators in Ontario, but this gives them something to strive for," says Mitchell when asked to explain the importance of the certification and the council’s Responsible Aggregate Standard.

Considering that 50 per cent of the aggregate produced in Ontario is used for public sector projects, municipalities may use the standard as a "scorecard" when considering aggregate applications, he adds.

What should the construction industry think of the certification?

"We would like to think they would want to deal with an aggregate producer which has been certified as operating in a responsible manner," he says.

And that’s what the Cornerstone Standards Council is hoping for, Schulz explains.

Formed in 2012 and comprised of a balance of environmental, non-profit and industry groups, the council unveiled the standard in early 2015 after three years of work by the drafting panel. Comprised of members as diverse as Environmental Defence, the Ministry of Natural Resources and the Miller Group, the panel receives more than 2,000 comments from more than 100 individuals during the consultation.

The council is now looking for participation by other quarries. Long-term tentative plans include possibly taking the program nationwide and extending it to include post-extraction producers such as concrete and asphalt manufacturers, says Schulz.

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