By Douglas Hunter

On July 15, the coalition group Citizens Concerned for Michipicoten Bay (CCMB) lost a seven-year fight against a proposed traprock quarry on the eastern shore of Lake Superior. The Ontario Municipal Board (OMB) declined to overturn an amendment the municipality of Wawa made to its official plan that allows Superior Aggregates Co. to open the quarry on 35 hectares of rezoned shoreline property.

The quarry site is located less than five kilometres from Michipicoten Provincial Park and 6.5 kilometres from a provincial conservation reserve.

“We were really disappointed with the decision,” says CCMB president Mark Leschishin of the ruling made by OMB member J.E. Sniezek, a former director of long-range planning for the city of Sault Ste. Marie. Leschishin’s coalition feared that the quarry, which will include a rockcrushing operation and feature periodic dynamiting, would negatively affect seasonal and year-round residences and the area’s natural resources, and discourage development of ecotourism.

While a lack of progress on developing the controversial site offers faint hope that it might not happen any time soon, the OMB appeal delivered some sobering messages to other groups wishing to oppose an industrial development in an environmentally significant area.

The Province’s decision to designate the project under the Aggregate Resources Act removed the requirement for an environmental class assessment. Issues that could have been raised under an environmental assessment process were difficult if not impossible to air within the limitations of an OMB appeal.

Anthony Usher, the planning consultant for CCMB, did argue (according to the OMB decision) that “the recreational use surface of the lake was an amenity area or outdoor space and the odour, noise and other contaminants would create an adverse impact. These impacts would include lighting and blasting impacts.” But the decision went against this argument, stating that “the Board finds no policy basis for the protection of recreationally used waters [from noise and lighting impact].”

“Recreationalists have no voice at all [in such a hearing], which is absurd,” says Leschishin. “It doesn’t look at recreational, social or economic impacts.”

The OMB decision made this fact startlingly clear. “[Lake Superior] and its rugged coastline are a treasure and the number and extent of the provincial and national parks and nature reserves is a testament to how important the lake is to the citizens of Ontario and Canada,” Sniezek wrote. “These facts do not in effect give the Board or anyone else the right to say to a private landowner, ‘you live on a beautiful lake, give up your right to development so that we may maintain what we consider a pristine wilderness.’”

Leschishen says his group has not appealed the OMB decision. “But CCMB is not going away. People want us to stay and ‘watchdog’ this thing. There’s also a broader function for us of protecting Lake Superior.”

The full 72-page decision (PL040025) can be downloaded from the OMB decisions page:

www.omb.gov.on.ca/english/eDecisions/eDecisions.html.