Lois Cooper |

BRACEBRIDGE — Rocks or water — which takes priority in your daily life?

Bracebridge’s town council has passed an amendment to zoning bylaw 2016-088 to allow a Fowler Construction pit and quarry below water.

However, there is a short time to have it reviewed.

The council believes:

  • It won’t affect the air quality.
  • It won’t affect the wildlife.
  • It won’t affect wells.
  • It won’t affect the quality of water in the watershed including the Muskoka River.
  • It won’t adversely affect the land, the aquifer or anything.

As a multi-generational property owner on District Road 117 — and thus an authority on this piece of nearby land — I have first-hand knowledge of this vital watershed that will be affected by a “mega quarry.”

This map of the proposed “mega quarry” site shows a blue line where Fowlers could ship their aggregate by more environmentally-friendly train to its own nearby site at Ruttan’s pit on Hwy. 117 for further distribution, writes Lois Cooper.

I first snowshoed over Cooper’s pond in 1968. The Cooper family have been occupants since 1904 and settled in MaCaulay in 1871. Coopers sat on council till the District of Muskoka was formed in 1971.

I have walked most every foot of this property — Lots 17 and 18, Concession 7 Macaulay:

The pine forest — to cut timber, which would become our home;

The swamp — to cut a cedar, which stands still as a light pole;

The forest to continue tapping, collecting and boiling maple sap in to syrup;

The pond to canoe, enjoy and protect the beavers that dam waterhead sources so vital to rural life;

The shore to watch the birds, animals and myriad of wildlife above and below the water;

And much more.

Some years my old dog “Mork” and I walked the property daily during hunting season to keep trespassers at bay — he wearing an orange hunting vest to keep from being shot.

It is a spectacular piece of nature, including hardwood hills, pine forest, fields, sand, swamp, wetland and “Cooper’s Creek” leading to “Cooper’s Pond.”

According to the Nature Conservancy of Canada (NCC) — Canada’s leading national land conservation organization: “Wetlands currently cover 5 to 10% of the Earth’s land area. It is estimated that more than half of the world’s original wetlands have disappeared and are being lost and degraded more quickly than any other ecosystem type.

“Canada is home to 25% of world’s wetlands. That’s more than any other country,” they say.

Lois Cooper, here canoeing on Cooper’s Pond, is a local authority on the proposed nearby site lands. The Cooper family have been in Macaulay Township since 1871. She says there are plenty of fish and wildlife on her adjacent farm property that isn’t contained by its borders and easily migrates back and forth with  the neighbouring Fowler quarry property. 

After becoming aware of the Bracebridge council decision to allow Fowlers a below water pit/quarry, I began reading the reports used to support this decision.

I have examined the watershed using Ministry of Natural Resources and Forestry (MNRF) maps.

And now I share some of my observations.

The environmental assessment summary used states that the proposed development is for a Category 1, Class A license (pit below water) and a Category 2, Class A license (quarry below water).

I did a search on the 39 page staff report and not once is ‘below water’ mentioned.

The hydrogeological and hydrological assessments for the Childs Pit/Quarry Extension, by Golder Associates June 2020 states: “The impact assessment presented in this report does not consider full extraction on the existing Childs Pit/Quarry property down to the currently approved floor elevations of 190 m ASL (west of Hydro easement) and 195 m ASL (east of Hydro easement).”

Fowler’s current licence on the existing quarry site (#618881) allows digging down to 190 m above sea level (ASL).

Even 270 m ASL is lower than the wetland around the site, according to MNRF mapping.

The Muskoka River is at 270 m ASL. However there is nothing to stop digging down to 190 m ASL near the river and the hydro corridor. Nothing.

There is no plan to amend the current licence — only to give an additional licence to dig below water.

Assurances that wells will not be affected give cold comfort.

“Mork,” the Cooper family dog wore an orange vest to be seen during hunting season at the family farm on Hwy. 117 near the proposed quarry site.

Bracebridge moved the town dump from the Sharpe’s Creek site (by South Branch Farm) to the Kirk Line against the cries of the people. Neighbouring residents said it would contaminate Peake’s Spring. The Town of Bracebridge drew its water from Peake’s Spring at the time. It was deemed among the best water in Muskoka and was supplied to the Queen during her 1959 visit. The town forged ahead and we got a dump accessed from the Kirk Line.

In a short few years, the springs were contaminated and the town was forced to use lake water going forward. Wells on Taylor Road and area have been ruined and remain so.

The same dump is now accessed by Rosewarne Drive, which did not exist.

Approximately a dozen years ago the district loaned Fowler’s the money to buy their current site on Rosewarne, which now is their office location.

Why I asked — and still am asking?

The planning justification report states: “The proposed (quarry) extension contains approximately 78 million tonnes of a high quality aggregate resource that is used in DFC asphalt mixes for the skid-resistant surfacing of provincial highways and high quality concrete mixes.”

A Fowler’s brochure says there are about 60 quarry licences currently in Muskoka, which together produced 2.25 million tonnes every year since 2012.

This new Fowler pit/quarry aims to produce 2 million tonnes a year, thus doubling the tonnage coming out of Muskoka. Fowlers says it already has 30 licences.

Definitely not showing a need for this below water pit/quarry.

The town council reports that the new pit/quarry is needed for Muskoka?

Fowlers have another licence (#618761) on the east side of Bonnie Lake Road at the corner of Stevenson Road 1. On 100 acres.

Fowler’s planning reports contradictory

According to a Fowler’s planning justification report: “The site specific ecological surveys (on the latest land application) identified three endangered or threatened species present within the study area that had the potential to be impacted by the proposed pit/quarry. Including one threatened snake species (Eastern Hog-nose Snake) and two threatened bat species (Little Brown Bat and Northern Long-eared Bat).”

Those are not listed in the wetland study, which says there are no endangered or threatened species listed. The only provincially significant animals listed are midland painted turtle and snapping turtle.

This is an example of the mix of studies/reports and how extremely difficult it is to sort.

Fowler’s has been working on this application since 2016.

A Riverstone Environmental Solutions report states: “Removal of trees within the extraction limit should only occur between Oct. 15 and April 15 to avoid the active season for endangered bat species.”

That’s all. “Should?”

The planning justification report goes on to identify three significant wildlife habitat features: turtle wintering areas; turtle and lizard nesting areas; and of special concern and rare species habitat of the: Snapping Turtle, Eastern Ribbon Snake, Canada Warbler and the Eastern Wood Pewee.

The affected wetland has been deemed insignificant.

If it were significant the below water pit/quarry most likely would not happen.

Moose, deer, bear, fox, lynx, bobcats live on the adjacent acreage yet the reports found none.

I have recorded seeing in our wetland over the years: Common Merganser, Hooded Merganser, Barrows Golden Eye, Wood Duck, Mallard and Bufflehead.

This makes me wonder why the reports say the area is not suitable for Black ducks.

Also at home are many other birds, including Great Blue Heron, American Bittern, Osprey, Owls of all kinds, woodpeckers of all kinds, Kingfisher, American Woodcock, Cooper’s Hawk, Cardinals, Ruffled Grouse and many others.

As well as turtles, frogs, salamanders, etc.

You name it — it lives in this area as it has been a haven of safety for wildlife.

What the town could do …

The Town of Bracebridge has jurisdiction over: Establishing Land Use; Establishing Setbacks; Traffic and Access from Road 46; Environmental – Species at Risk and Significant Wildlife Habitat; Environmental – Local Interest (Sage Creek);

  • The town could enforce the setbacks in their comprehensive planning bylaw of 2016-088 of 60 metres (196.8 ft) for pit/quarries on all boundaries adjacent to other lands not owned by Fowlers. Whatever the adjacent lands are zoned,

They are not.

  • The town could protect the three endangered or threatened species – the bats and snake and turtles.

They are not.

  • The town could protect three significant wildlife habitat features: turtle wintering areas; turtle and lizard nesting areas; and of special concern and rare species – habitat of the: Snapping Turtle; Eastern Ribbon Snake; Canada Warbler and the Eastern Wood Pewee.

They are not.

  • The town could protect Sage Creek better by increasing the protected area adjacent to District Road 46. The protected area at the roadside is extremely narrow. See the adjacent map.

They are not.

  • The town says it has no power over the intersection of Hwy. 117 (District Road 117) and District Road 46.

They do have power over access and traffic on Road 46.

The Ontario government, under the MNRF led now by former Bracebridge mayor and new Parry Sound-Muskoka MPP Graydon Smith, has Jurisdiction over: Establishing Setbacks; Access; Traffic on Provincial Hwy. 117; Environmental – Species at Risk and Significant Wildlife Habitat; Rehabilitation; Fencing; Screening; Lighting; Dust; Noise; Blasting; Impacts on Wells and Hours of Operation.

The province is responsible for enforcing its many ‘should’ do statements in the reports.

The MNRF should also measure the clouds of particulates in the air — even now — both at busy trucking times and blasting.

There are rules to be followed.

There are many things the province should do.

The province could — if it chose — make Fowlers rail the product to Fowler’s existing Ruttan pit (licence # 618782) on provincial Hwy 117. Stock pile there and truck it on.

Ruttan pit is about 200 acres away from the Child’s pit. See map.

Amazing what can be done when the will is there.

It only took the province weeks to install rail from Toronto to Casino Rama when it opened. After a few months it was abandoned.

Rail would solve the problem of truck traffic through a quiet residential area (not zoned residential) along Road 46. Rail is more environmentally friendly.

A climate emergency was declared by both Bracebridge and Muskoka.

Time to think outside the box.

As you will see there are two levels of government with power over pits and quarries, the local municipal council and then the province.

Citizens have the greatest power at the local level, if we are given a fair and open chance.

Fair and reasonable hearings?

In this case the local government has passed changes to their zoning bylaw to allow a pit/quarry below water level without giving residents a fair chance and certainly not giving those living within the affected watershed a reasonable hearing.

Who with wisdom would accept that only those within 400 feet of a quarry or pit below the water table will be affected?

Minister Smith: what do you want to be your legacy?

Fifty years ago another local MPP Frank Miller was minister of health. He boldly closed hospital beds across the province. Thus began our descent in to the current healthcare crisis where we have a dearth of beds, doctors, nurses and all healthcare workers to the point that we called in the army so old people could at least have a drink of water before dying in our old peoples’ care homes.

Frank Miller (father of our most recent MPP Norm Miller) was an honourable, decent, caring person. He still made a bad decision by not considering the health effects on our future.

Smith and the MNRF should make another bold decision for the future of our environment — water, air and animals included.

Or will he sit by and let greed win the day?

The town council has passed its bylaw without understanding the gravity of their action.

To the readers: the decision is yours.

Will your children and grandchildren be able to breathe easy in 50 years’ time?

Fish and fauna are equally present across Macaulay, writes Lois Cooper, who hopes her gandson, Alex Hogg, will still be able to cast a line as generations of his ancestors have for more than 150 years in the township. A threat she says the Fowler proposal poses.

Either you sit by or you take action.

Challenge the Town of Bracebridge to amend the zoning bylaw to allow a pit and quarry below water level.

Put money into the pot to pay for a hearing at the Ontario Land Tribunal.

The appeal must be registered before Nov. 15.

To learn more about local opposition by the Muskoka Environmental Alliance, join their Zoom meeting Monday, Nov. 7 at 7 p.m., at join Zoom meeting:

Meeting ID: 869 4789 5696
Passcode: 936962

Muskoka Environmental Alliance

Or check it out at:

Lois Cooper and her family have owned farm property on Hwy. 117 dating back four generations. The Cooper family have been occupants since 1904 and settled in Macaulay Township in 1871.


28 years of ‘Local Online Journalism’

Twitter: @muskokatoday, Facebook: mclairmont1

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