Blasting Lake Superior

Tuesday September 22, 2009
Posted by Conor Mihell

Joel Cooper can’t say enough about the big lake that looms just outside the patio doors of his modest year-round home near Wawa, Ontario. “Lake Superior has captured my imagination and dominates my life,” says Cooper, a retired Ontario Ministry of Natural Resources employee who lives on Michipicoten Bay and dedicates countless volunteer hours to environmental causes—including tracking the recovery of endangered peregrine falcons and being an active member of the Friends of Lake Superior Provincial Park. But Cooper’s voice—and those of his Citizens Concerned for Michipicoten Bay ( colleagues and dozens of other environmentalists from across Canada—fell on deaf ears this summer when the Ontario Municipal Board (OMB) approved a lakeside aggregate quarry a few kilometres from his wave-washed front yard (

For seven years, Cooper and CCMB had been on the frontlines of efforts challenging a proposed aggregate quarry on Michipicoten Bay. The proponent, U.S.-owned Superior Aggregates Company (, convinced Wawa town council and the OMB that less than 20 local jobs generated from blasting rock scarcely 60 metres from the Lake Superior shoreline and shipping it on freighters to pave Michigan highways outweighed the environmental consequences of industrial development in the heart of 300 kilometres of wilderness coastline. After reflecting on the OMB decision, Cooper is convinced his group was dismissed because there was no effective means of expressing concerns related to invasive species, water quality, fisheries and ecotourism in the area. Essentially, Cooper says there is no “long-term vision for protecting Great Lakes shoreline.”

“One thing that became very clear in the OMB hearing was that the board’s interests ended at the water’s edge, [where municipal jurisdiction ends],” notes Cooper. “Lake Superior was an orphan.”

According to Cooper, Lake Superior needs a “policy or group that would set a vision for the shore and apply these ideals when reviewing development proposals.” This could be especially important in the future as there are concerns that the Wawa quarry could be a foot in the door for future development along the coast. In this regard, the California Coastal Commission (, an independent state agency established in 1976 with a mandate to “protect, conserve, restore and enhance environmental and human-based resources of the California coast and ocean for environmentally sustainable and prudent use by current and future generations,” is perhaps North America’s most avant-garde shoreline protection framework—and a good place to start for the Great Lakes.

“The OMB decision indicated that the standard of ‘good planning’ had been met,” says Cooper. “But I think that Lake Superior and the other Great Lakes deserve more. They deserve great planning.”


  1. Torfinn Hansen Torfinn Hansen
    September 23, 2009    

    One unfortunate factor in the Michipicoten Bay quarry situation is that the local Municipal Council showed no regard for the health of the coast and the aquatic environment. This myopic Council managed to push through an official plan amendment which allows quarrying to within 30 m of Lake Superior in the “Environmental Zone”.

    Fortunately, the proponent’s present application requires a minimum setback of 60 m.

    The OMB in its decision paid significant attention to the argument presented by both the Municipality’s and the proponent’s planner, that shipping aggregates from Michipicoten Bay to Toronto (which they claim will be the major market) via laker is environmentally sound. In this same decision the OMB refused to accept the participants’ argument that shipping would contaminate Michipicoten with Aquatic Invasive Species (AIS) on the basis that shipping is a federal issue.

    The Aggregate Resources Act stipulates that “extraction shall be as close to market as is practically possible” (Michipicoten to Toronto via laker is 1500 km).

    Shipping via laker to Toronto does not avoid trucking. The final delivery to the job site will still be by truck.

    The shipping wharf adjacent to the quarry is not included in the ARA licence. It will be licensed separately.

    The only way to prevent introduction of AIS into Michipicoten Bay is a licence specific ban to discharge of ballast water.

    There will be no mandatory requirements for lakers to treat ballast water until 2016.

    Michipicoten Bay is the only Great Lakes deep water harbour still free of AIS (with the exception of Spiny Water Flea which permeates all of the Great Lakes.)

  2. November 29, 2009    

    I am the owner of Naturally Superior Adventures and Rock Island Lodge located across Michipicoten Bay from the proposed quarry location. We do sea kayak tours in the Bay and expect that the crushing and blasting noise and dust will be intolerable for our guests paddling adjacent to the operation. It is difficult to imagine that they would return or recommend the experience to others.

    We had plans to expand our lodge B&B and that’s no longer under consideration. I can’t imagine a bank lending money for construction of an eco-lodge adjacent to a growing traprock quarry.

    Through the expensive and time consuming OMB process we succeeded in reducing hours of operation from a proposed 24/7 option and getting a bit more noise control through reduction of the quarry opening.

    That was a multi year effort which regulates only 1/10th of the Superior Aggregates property. Presumably it all starts again in less than a decade when the company applies to expand their license.

    The company made lots of promises including jobs for Wawa and sound environmental practice in their drive for municipal and community support. I sincerely hope my community will benefit from the company honouring these promises.


    David Wells
    Naturally Superior Adventures
    Michipicoten Bay, Lake Superior

  3. December 25, 2009    

    I want to quote your post in my blog. It can?
    And you et an account on Twitter?

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