Management of Abandoned Aggregate Properties Program [MAAP]
One of the important Trust purposes is the rehabilitation of former pits and quarries “deemed” to be abandoned. By definition, abandoned pits and quarries include those that have never been licenced following the establishment of the Aggregate Resources Act (the ARA) in 1990. In realty, these former extraction sites have not been abandoned but remain the property of individuals, corporate entities and municipalities. Typically, they are relatively small by nature (less than 2 hectares), were created as the result of small scale operations (municipal wayside pits, private use pits or intermittent commercial operations) and were generally unregulated.
When the ARA was put into effect, the aggregate industry represented by the now Ontario Stone Sand & Gravel Association (formerly the Aggregate Producers Association of Ontario) agreed that $0.005 per tonne of licence fees payable would be dedicated to a program having the purpose of rehabilitating these former extraction sites. Based on recent levels of extraction in Ontario, an approximate amount of $400,000 to $600,000 is made available on an annual basis for this purpose. These monies are held in a dedicated account know as the Abandoned Pits & Quarries Rehabilitation Fund. In addition to the rehabilitation of abandoned pits and quarries, monies from the fund also supports research into ways and means of undertaking new and creative approaches to rehabilitation in the often harsh environments created in post extraction sites (see further details under the Research and Publications section).
The rehabilitation of sites disturbed by aggregate extraction and research into new rehabilitation techniques was initially known as the Abandoned Pit & Quarry Rehabilitation program. Since 1997, these same functions have become known as the Management of Abandoned Aggregate Properties program (the MAAP program).
At the outset, the Ministry of Natural Resources (MNR) undertook an inventory of site disturbances that were thought to be the result of aggregate extraction. That investigation resulted in the creation of approximately 6,600 files that formed a basis from which to begin a systematic assessment of sites, the establishment of priorities regarding which sites to tackle first and the creation of plans and procedures for undertaking the task. The program has two salient features;
- The rehabilitation of any site can only be undertaken with the consent of the property owner.
- The cost of the rehabilitation work is paid for entirely from the $0.005 portion of the licence fee (the total fee now being $0.115/tonne) paid by aggregate producers. In short; at no cost to the property owner.
The inventory of sites first undertaken by the MNR has been expanded to incorporate other areas of the Province as they have been designated under the ARA; most notably new areas in northern Ontario. A history of these more recently designated areas can be found under the Designated Areas section. Accordingly, the designation of new areas of the Province under the ARA has resulted in additional sites that qualify for remedial assistance under this program. The most recent designation of 2007 alone has resulted in 1,300 additional properties deemed to be abandoned and therefore eligible for assistance.
While the designation of additional parts of the province has resulted in new files being added to the inventory of sites qualifying under the program, it has also been discovered that many of the sites contained in the original inventory no longer need rehabilitation assistance through this program. It has now been over 20 years since sites in the original inventory were assessed and many of them have not seen any disturbance for much longer than that (40 years and more in many cases). The reality is that many sites have reverted to other uses for a number of reasons;
- Have been relicensed
- Disappeared under urban expansion
- Rehabilitated by the property owner
- Utilized for recreational activities
- Have naturalized on their own
- Rehabilitated through the MAAP program
Given the size of the Province and the number and variety of sites to deal with, it has been necessary to establish certain priorities for organizing the MAAP work program. The site inventories provide a record of conditions, ranked with respect to a number of parameters that when totaled provide a composite ranking for each site. Things like possible safety concerns (unstable slopes, deep water, vertical cliffs, etc.), visibility, size, lack of vegetation and susceptibility to erosion are ranked on a simple scale that collectively provides an overall rating of high, medium or low priority. Needless to say those sites with the higher priorities are approached first when organizing the annual work schedule.
The MAAP program aims to rehabilitate 30 sites annually. This objective is divided into a spring and fall work program. To achieve better productivity, the spring and fall sites are targeted within as small a geographical area as possible (usually within a county or regional jurisdiction). By concentrating projects into two annual groupings for work purposes, travel time for staff and contractors is minimized and opportunities are created for tendering a number of small sites together. Counties and regions targeted for work are rotated on a semi-annual basis to ensure that all sectors of the Province are considered for rehabilitation work on as equitable a basis as possible.
Notwithstanding the benefits of concentrating work within specified areas, the program allows for exceptions where landowners bring to our attention sites that rightly deserve immediate attention. Generally, these entail issues around safety concerns.
Setting Rehabilitation Objectives
In the simplest of terms, the MAAP program aims to rehabilitate sites to provide a higher level of function (usefulness) over the prevailing condition of the site, always having regard to eliminating any safety concerns as noted above. Objectives are set in consultation with the landowner. Landowner desires for a site are not always accommodated however if they are unrealistic, too expensive or unreasonable. For example, returning a site to agricultural use may not be practical if there is no topsoil or organic materials remaining on site that could be utilized for such purposes. The importation of large quantities of topsoil to achieve such ends may not be practical, possible or economically feasible in certain circumstances. Other solutions may have to be considered!
The Province of Ontario, over the historical course of settlement, has experienced a tremendous loss of natural areas. It is estimated that approximately 2.4 million ha of wetlands were found in southern Ontario in the 1800s; however, since then about 75% of these wetlands have been drained and lost to agricultural, recreational and urban development (see Best Practice Guideline for Aggregate Rehabilitation Projects ). Trends from 1967 to 1982, largely as a result of the abandonment of agricultural land and associated reversion of natural cover, have recorded approximately 25,430 ha (or about 1,695 ha/yr) of new or restored wetlands. While this is encouraging, this replacement of natural areas will not progress indefinitely thereby creating opportunities for the MAAP program.
On top of the loss of wetlands, approximately 210,000 ha of prairies and savannahs in Ontario, existent prior to European settlement (see Research & Publications) have been dramatically reduced. These areas were some of the first lands to be used by early settlers because of the lack of trees and the relatively fertile soil. By the 20th century, most of the grasslands in southern Ontario had been converted for agricultural uses or urban development. Moreover, with the increasing trend towards fire suppression, many of the remaining areas have succeeded to shrub thickets and forested habitats. Today, less than 0.5% of original prairies and savannahs remain. This again provides opportunities for creative rehabilitation approaches.
The existence of abandoned pits and quarries provides opportunities to re-establish landscapes and ecosystems lost to settlement and urbanization as noted above. In many instances, these sites have reverted to naturally functioning habitat spaces on their own. In others, minimal help from the MAAP program can launch the progress of a site on a trajectory to arrive at a naturalized area in a shorter time frame than if left on its own. Much of the research funded by TOARC has been directed towards that end
(see Research & Publications).
To date, approximately $6,330,000 has been spent to reclaim/rehabilitate over 540 ha of land, on over 320 individual sites. All at no cost to the landowner! The cost to rehabilitate the average site has been just over $11,500/ha. This results in an average cost per site of just under $20,000 given the average site size of 1.69 ha. Approximately, an additional $1,200,000 has been allocated to research that seeks to find better ways and means to carry out rehabilitation with more creative and cost effective solutions.