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Understanding the Mega Quarry in Ten Easy Steps

10/11/2012 02:08 EDT | Updated 12/11/2012 05:12 EST

If you live in southern Ontario, you've likely seen the signs. Stop. The. Mega-Quarry. The simple red and white lawn signs have increasingly been springing up in yards and on porches in both rural communities and downtown Toronto.

While the signs are becoming iconic, the mind-boggling numbers behind the controversial Mega-Quarry proposal aren't as well known.

For your convenience, below is a quick summary in ten easy steps.

1. For the uninitiated, the Mega-Quarry is a massive 930-hectare (2,300 acre) proposed limestone quarry that would be blasted beneath the picturesque countryside of Melancthon Township, 100 kilometres north of Toronto.

2. The Mega-Quarry is a proposal by the Highland Companies, which is backed by the $25 billion Baupost Group hedge fund from Boston. The company proposes to blast one billion tonnes of 400 million year old sedimentary rock, using 20,000 tonnes of explosives each day for decades to come.

3. The bottom of the excavated pit would be more than 200 feet below the water table -- almost 20 stories. That is deeper than Niagara Falls. Thus, the proposal will require 600 million litres of water to be pumped from the site every day, forever.

4. The proponents argue they will ensure local farming continues by simply setting the soil aside, then placing it at the bottom of the pit once the limestone is gone. To do this necessitates pumping those 600 million litres of water out of the pit in perpetuity.

5. Contrast the grand Mega-Quarry proposal with the current land use. For several generations, local farmers have taken advantage of the area's exceptionally rare soil -- Honeywood silt loam that took 10,000 years to accumulate -- and ideal growing climate.

6. The farms in Melancthon currently harvest more than one million pounds of potatoes each year, including about half of all fresh potatoes consumed in the Greater Toronto Area.

7. Melancthon is also home to the headwaters of five major rivers, making its groundwater an essential source of drinking water for up to one million Ontarians living downstream.

8. As you can imagine, a company intending to blast a giant pit beneath lands of such agricultural, cultural and ecological heritage has stirred much resistance. The movement to stop the Mega-Quarry has grown from meetings in local church basements to a broad community of support spanning from small, well-organized local groups like NDACT and Artists Against the Mega-Quarry to respected national groups like the Council of Canadians and the Canadian Chefs' Congress.

More than 130,000 people signed an online petition demanding the project be rejected. Over 5,000 formal complaints have been submitted to the provincial government. Last fall more than 28,000 people and dozens of chefs, musicians and artists showed their support by attending Foodstock at several farms adjacent to the proposed quarry site. And, of course, there are the now ubiquitous lawn signs.

9. Last fall, the Ontario government reacted to the flood of protest by ordering a provincial Environmental Assessment for the proposal -- oddly the first quarry project to ever be subjected to such an assessment in Ontario.

10. Given what is at stake and the considerable odds facing citizens trying to stop the proposed mega quarry, the inspiring movement to protect the Melancthon region's prized farmland and precious headwaters continues to grow.

On Sunday October 21st, the Canadian Chefs' Congress and David Suzuki Foundation will be bringing the protest to the city by hosting Soupstock in Toronto's Woodbine Park.

The day-long culinary celebration will see more than 175 of Canada's top chefs join forces with local farmers and producers to concoct original soup creations for the expected tens of thousands of foodies and supporters. Dozens of musicians, advocates, artists and flash mob choirs will be lending their support by taking the stage and performing throughout the crowd.

If Mother Nature smiles on Soupstock, it may be the largest culinary protest Canada has ever seen. Regardless, it will draw thousands more supporters to the inspiring movement to protect our prized farmland and precious headwaters, and to stop the Mega-Quarry. If you want to get a taste for yourself, join me on Sunday October 21st. Come raise a bowl at Soupstock!

Dr. Faisal Moola is a soup lover and director of the Ontario operations of the David Suzuki Foundation. www.davidsuzuki.org