Like most businesses, aggregate supplier James Dick Construction Ltd. considers long-term planning essential for long-term growth — except that in its case the planning horizon stretches three centuries into the future.
Under its 300-year resource management plan, the privately-owned Bolton, Ont.-based company sets tentative beginning and ending target dates for the three distinct phases of the thousands of acres of land it owns in Ontario including its largest operating facility, Caledon Sand and Gravel.
Those phases include pre-extraction conservation measures such as tree planting and agricultural production, the start and end date of the extraction, and the long-term progressive rehabilitation as required by the Aggregate Resources Act.
Plotted with use of spreadsheets, the plan is kept up to date by keeping track of what the company owns and closely monitoring the Ministry of Natural Resources and Forestry’s State of the Aggregate Resources Study, provincial legislation and other constraints which could affect or may prevent extraction on those properties, says executive vice president Greg Sweetnam.
Ensuring the company will still be able to provide high quality aggregate “close to the market” in the decades and centuries to come was the reason for the plan’s creation about 20 years ago, he says.
“We started to take a look at what we had and started land banking.”
As most of the holdings are within 100 kilometres of the Greater Toronto Area, Sweetnam considers those purchases a prudent decision considering how land prices have escalated since then.
But there is “always a risk” as the company has to hold and manage those lands and there is no guarantee it will ultimately receive approval to mine the resources, Sweetnam says.
If there is a template for the plan it is the Erin, Ont. gravel pit which James Dick Construction has owned since the early 1980s. But the pit only has about 10 years of life left. The company has submitted an application for a new licence to expand the pit on approximately 300 acres of agricultural land it owns directly across the road in the town of Caledon.
Under the resource-management plan, extraction would start in 2028 and would continue until 2072, at which time rehabilitation will also be completed, he says.
Although there is opposition from some adjacent property owners, “it is only from one or two owners and we think we can resolve those issues.”
If not, the issue will be the subject of a Local Planning Appeal Tribunal (LPAT) hearing.
The plan is more than just setting dates. In the past few years the company has been using the internal document as a planning tool to seek the pre-designation of those lands when municipal official plans are reviewed and updated.
“There will be less opposition (to the pre-designation) and less contention if the site isn’t going to be extracted for another 100 years.”
At the same time, the company also has to “defend the process” as there is always a risk its pre-extraction tree-covered lands will be designated environmental by planners, he says.
“Planners are politics sensitive,” says Sweetnam, who in the past few years, has been delivering talks to urban planning students at the Universities of Waterloo and Guelph on geology, the importance of aggregate, and the challenges the aggregate industry faces.
In underscoring those challenges and why the company’s 300-year plan is so critical, Sweetnam notes that the highest quality of aggregate in the Greater Toronto Area is limestone which is found on the Niagara Escarpment. The CN Tower in Toronto was constructed with this material and concrete remediation is not expected for another 1,200 years, he says.
That is in direct contrast to the city’s elevated Gardiner Expressway which was built with a lower quality alkaline-reactive stone which expands and forces the concrete to expand and crack — which is why chunks of concrete continue to fall off its deck, he points out.
However, the amount of limestone is being constricted through a variety of factors such as the loss of land through the creation of new subdivisions, ratepayer opposition to new or extended licences, or the fact that some quarries have been mined out and have been or are being rehabilitated. An example of the latter is the former Kelso quarry in Milton, Ont., he says.
At one time one of Canada’s largest producers of aggregate, the quarry was closed in 2001 and has now been transformed into the Kelso Quarry Park.
As a result, “the quality of aggregate is the lowest it has been in the past 60 years.”
“We’re working hard to find new sources,” says Sweetnam, citing a proposed 65-acre quarry in Rockwood, Ont. which was the subject of a recently completed LPAT hearing. A decision isn’t expected until Christmas, he says.
Trucking lower-quality material from pits and quarries further away from the Toronto area only adds to construction costs and increases greenhouse emissions, says Sweetnam, who refuses “both morally and ethically” to sell what he considers inferior aggregate.
The demand and supply of aggregate has wider ramifications than its impact on construction. A few years ago, James Dick Construction sent one of its engineers to a seminar at the Tesla manufacturing plant in California.
“The technology isn’t quite there yet, but I believe electric trucks are the way to go.”
As its Caledon Sand and Gravel pit is located on top of a large landform known as Caledon Mountain, the company’s own fleet of fully loaded delivery trucks could be recharging their batteries as they head south into Brampton, says Sweetnam, who sees a time when all its trucks could be recharged by solar panels on its various holdings.
“But it (electric trucks) doesn’t make sense if we’re driving (material) in from Sudbury.”