Wednesday marked a great day for local farmers in Ontario, as the plan to built a “mega quarry” in Melancthon Township was dropped. The company behind this controversial project, The Highland Companies, has abandoned its attempts and president John Lowndes stepped down as well. Highland principal John Scherer stated that the lack of community and government support is what prompted their decision to abandon the project.
The opponents of the quarry have been celebrating, as their six year battle has finally come to an end. “We were a small township that most people couldn’t pronounce, let alone spell, a couple of years ago,” Melancthon Mayor Bill Hill said Wednesday. “Now we’re this national story. It’s like the little engine that could.”
The controversy began in 2006 when John Lowndes began offering local farmers $20,000 per hectare of their land—a value much higher than their market value—under the pretext of wanting to create a large potato farm. Thirty homeowners sold their land, while others resisted.
Highland has since explained that they had different goals for using the land and thus, they were honest in purchasing the land. Highland has become the largest potato producer in Ontario—the soil in Melancthon is ideal for potato growth.
The controversy; however, lies in the Amabel dolostone (a type of limestone) that lies beneath the soil. This material is used in construction. Over the years, many farmers began to doubt whether Highland’s purpose was potatoes or the limestone.
Highland submitted a 3,100-page application to the Ministry of Natural Resources in 2011 to build a quarry on 2,300 hectares, making it one of the largest quarries in North America if built. This proposal was faced with thousands of letters of objection.
This battle came to an end on Wednesday when Highland agreed to stop quarry efforts and announced that the company will continue growing potatoes on the land.
“We feel that that the government identified a need for aggregate that’s close to market. We think our land is well situated or suited for a quarry and we have a strong application. But there just wasn’t enough support, I guess, community and government-wise, to move forward,” said Scherer.