Mark Clairmont |

BRACEBRIDGE — The fight to stop a “mega quarry” isn’t just about NIMBYism.

It’s about climate change and the future of kids riding school buses on Bonnie Lake Road, critics also charge.

Objectors to the project, which with a second licence would double the size of an existing Fowler’s Construction pit in east Bracebridge to a total of 900 acres, agree the proposed expansion is unconscionable given this week’s UN warnings about global warming.

In 2014 Capital Paving, of Guelph, became a 50 per cent shareholder partner of Fowler.

Laura Pratt, a lead opponent, says Fowler is “destroying the environment for profit.

“They are profiteering on our resources in Muskoka and not for Muskoka.”

All of the aggregate extraction of sand and gravel and rock for asphalt being asked for means “taking out what far exceeds local use.”

“Bracebridge is going to turn in to Barrie pretty fast. They’re going to pave it and do whatever they want, if they’re not kept in check,” said Pratt, whose parents own the Bracebridge Golf Club at the Hwy. 117 and Bonnie Lake Road intersection.

That’s why her community non-profit group (registered with the town) plans to appeal last week’s Bracebridge council decision to rezone a portion of included wetland for a new united quarry’s use if they have enough financial support from the public to do so.

Bonnie Lake Road could see up to 600 truck trips per day at this intersection on Hwy. 11 next to the Bracebridge Golf Club, if a new quarry pit permit is allowed, they say. It is on the road east to Baysville and Lake of Bays.

A working group of the newly-created Muskoka Environmental Alliance (MEA) will meet next Wednesday to consider their next steps in appealing to the Ontario Land Tribunal (OLT formerly OMB).

Wednesday this week the Town of Bracebridge set the clock ticking on a 20-day appeal period, which would bring a deadline of Nov. 15.

But first, said Pratt and fellow opponent Michael Opara in an interview, is for the group to begin raising money for a costly fight against a large company with deep pockets experienced in facing environmental and community opposition.

MEA has “partnered” with, a Toronto-based third party crowdfunding organization that helps grassroots groups in Canada fundraise, message, and will make payment of funds directly to the lawyers, planners and consultants who will be hired to present the community group’s case to the OLT.

“If people knew we were going to appeal this and that we need their support and donations; and we have a campaign at Small Change Fund,” Pratt said “we’d appreciate anyone that wants to get involved in this to reach out.”

You can contact her at

An application by Fowler Construction would double the size of its quarry on Bonnie Lake Road off Hwy. 117 in east Bracebridge. The current pit has an unlimited licence for removal. A second permit is being sought for two million tons of sand and gravel to be removed annually.

Opponents of the Royale Muskoka College school plan on Lake Muskoka in Bracebridge are using the same fundraising group now in their OLT fight, said Opara who is involved in the recessed case to resume in January and who also ran second this week in the town’s mayoral race.

Pratt says an OLT hearing could take several days. But first the parties would sit down with OLT case management for a pre-meeting to understand the issues, set the terms and decide how much time to allot a hearing and set dates. The recent Royale hearing was 23 days and has been extended to January, 2023.

Filing an appeal will automatically “freeze the process” of licensing, said Pratt. And a hearing could be a year to 18 months off she estimates.

Fowler doesn’t want to just expand the existing quarry, says Pratt. They want to double it in size, creating one quarry of 900 acres with ultimately unlimited extraction, which she says is possible as the aggregate industry is mostly self-regulating and hard to monitor which pit the gravel comes from.

“They’re going to have two licences out of there.” The existing quarry with an unlimited licence and a second licensed for two million tons.

Fowler says the existing quarry historically takes out 210,000 tons a year.

However, a neighbour at last week’s town council meeting said he estimated that number at five times that amount — or one million tons — which the company denied.

Pratt said admitting it would require them to redesign the intersection at Hwy. 117, where a north turn lane is being proposed. One councillor suggested a roundabout.

The current quarry historically sees 210,000 tons of sand and gravel removed, says the company. But an opposing neighbour calculated that at five times the amount – or one million tons.

Opara suggests the road builder could easily and affordably construct a new direct link over the Muskoka River to Hwy. 11.

Pratt asks, why if the existing quarry has 50 to 100 years left it, do they need a new licence?

“They could work that existing pit for anther 50 years.

“What’s the plan? It’s not like they need to double it. It’s just a land grab. They’re amassing quarries all over the place.”

Could it be, she hypothesizes, for use on a possible new Hwy. 413 across the top of Toronto? Or on roads and construction sites elsewhere southward in to the GTA and surrounding areas thus clogging highways with ever more gravel trucks.

Residents and environmentalists say the Sage and Childs creeks along with the Muskoka River would be detrimentally impacted by a total ten times more removal of aggregate long-term.

Meanwhile, she said the citizens group has had no meaningful dialogue with the company after writing the president.

Pratt said she had one “exchange” with the president.

“I sent it to the president and then the local guy (John McBride) who’s the vp answered.”

At the Oct. 18 town council meeting she said that same vice president wouldn’t even talk to any of a number of opponents on hand outside and in the council chamber to discuss the issue.

“He was in the meeting. He was there. And he was not having any of it. He wasn’t gonna say ‘OK we’ll meet the town’s people and we’ll give them 30 days to come to some sort of anything.’ Nothing.

“My lawyer (David Donnelly, who also acts for Royale Muskoka opponents) wrote a letter to the council asking for a meeting. I got zero response from that. They’ve just closed ranks. Pushed it through. That’s it.”

Pratt said she reached out asking that Fowler “be a good community partner” and talk.

She said she approached them at the council meeting and “they didn’t want to speak. They just wanted to ram it through.”

She said Bracebridge council’s request to Fowler for more talks between the parties have so far gone unmet.

“No one has ever reached out. (Fowler) was supposed to reach out to the district to find out how the community feels and nothing has happened.”

An email request to McBride for comment, from, on Friday was not returned at time of publication today.

Turn lanes are being proposed on Hwy. 117 where opponents say estimated 300 trucks per day could be turning in and turning out off the highway five kilometres off Hwy. 11.

Contacted, this week, the District of Muskoka said at its Oct. 19 public works and engineering committee meeting councillors “indicated” that commissioner James Steele responded with a letter Oct. 12 “regarding the Bracebridge council resolution on Aug. 31, requiring engagement of the district about public concerns.”

They said resident concerns included not being adequately notified about the application, dangerous impact of high volume trucks, traffic safety, damage to road, lead poisoning in their wells, noise and links to hearing loss, environmental impacts including to Sage Creek (Childs Creek) and Muskoka River.

The district said it doesn’t have jurisdiction over Hwy. 117, but has done a traffic count.

Citizens opposed suspect the company’s Rosewarne Drive quarry operations will be closed and relocated to Bonnie Lake Road to make room for housing development up the road from the town hall.

Pratt says she is “not opposed to development.

“I support responsible development. I know there’s a problem in town with affordable housing.”

But she says the homes being built today are “not affordable for the town’s people.

“They’re going to do to Bonnie Lake Road what they did to Rosewarne Drive, where there used to be homes.”

Subdivision landfill, sand and gravel, concrete and paving of roads, “it’s all connected,” she says.

Fowler already owns about two dozen quarries in Muskoka, according to Pratt’s calculations based on industry observers.

Their existing pit on Bonne Lake Road (which they bought with an existing licence) has an unlimited licence to excavate.

Fowler is seeking a two million tons extraction permit from the province, which no longer allows unlimited removal.

MPP Graydon Smith, who was mayor when it’s believed the original application commenced, is now minister of Natural Resources and Forestry and would be expected to have to be responsible for approving any new permit.

Pratt and Opara say they’d like to see the second pit permit refused.

“The ideal situation,” said Opara “is that this quarry be closed. It should never have been opened in the first place.”

At the least, says Pratt, restrictions should be placed on the 300 x 2 trucks coming and going 24/7; limits on blasting times and intersection improvements with safety paramount.

Laura Pratt says she took the school bus in to Bracebridge from Bonnie Lake Road, while growing up and where dozens of kids who are still bussed to school every day would share the road with hundreds of gravel trucks on the narrow two-lane road.

Pratt, who said she was bussed to school on the same road, says she can only hope for an impartial hearing.

But she laments the vast majority of OLT decisions favour developers.

Opara is equally skeptical, saying of Fowler “they don’t feel they have to negotiate. Because they have everything sown up,” with the support of the district, the town, the minister, province and premier. “Because if they were at some risk they’d be negotiating.”

Pratt said they’d like to contact for comment Ontario Green candidate Matt Richter, who nearly upset Smith in the provincial election, and Parry Sound-Muskoka NDP candidate Erin Horvath, both of whom condemned the Conservative Ford government’s environmental actions.

As well they’d like to hear from Climate Action Muskoka after the public group forced the district and town to enact climate emergency policies a lens through which the lower tier governments would examine all decisions.

There’s a large move afoot to freeze all new gravel pits in the province. In January the Reform Gravel Mining Coalition hosted a meeting of more than 700 stakeholders that resulted in a call for a moratorium on the approval of new mining operations for two to three years.

Ontario Greens and NDP agreed to support it if elected.


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