Lafarge is proposing to someday transform one of Canada's most massive quarries into a couple of Hamilton's largest human-made lakes.
City council signed off last fall on zoning changes needed for Lafarge to expand its sprawling, century-old Dundas limestone quarry — actually within Flamborough — by about 127 footballs fields.
A provincial licence decision is pending following four years of studies and consultation meant to deal with concerns of environmentalists and nearby residents about truck traffic, the water table and extraction limits.
Now, residents have a chance to weigh in on the post-quarry future of the site. An updated rehabilitation proposal posted on the provincial Environment Registry suggests flooding a large percentage of the emptied quarry rather than turning the south end into a golf course as once envisioned. (You can comment on the proposed change until Feb. 28.)
"The water features would cover a very large area," said Mike Stone, a watershed planning manager who studied the expansion proposal for the Hamilton Conservation Authority. "At face value, there is the potential for greater environmental benefit in comparison to a golf course."
LaFarge Dundas limestone quarry site | Tania Praeg, Spectator Staff
The current quarry stretches from Hwy. 5 in the south to Conc. 5 in the north and is split in half by Conc. 4. The latest proposed expansion would grow the southern arm.
If even half the roughly 550 hectares of existing and proposed quarry end up flooded, the resulting lakes (split by Conc. 4) would rival the size of any human-made reservoir in or around Hamilton, including Lake Niapenco in Binbrook at 174 hectares and the Mountsberg reservoir in Halton at 202 hectares.
Lafarge did not have exact numbers available on the size of all planned water features in the various arms of the sprawling quarry. But the planned western expansion area, if approved, would feature an 80-hectare lake dotted with islands, ringed by 13 hectares of wetland and a large swath of woodland slope.
That single section of flooded quarry alone would outsize popular recreational reservoirs like Valens Lake (75 hectares) and Christie Lake (71 hectares.)
Environment Hamilton's Lynda Lukasik is cautiously optimistic about the watery long-term restoration plan.
(She's not so keen on the actual quarry expansion itself, arguing the plan to grandfather decades-old provisions allowing "limitless" annual extraction is bad for the environment and local residents who put up with diesel-fuming truck traffic.)
"Long term, I think lakes and wetlands are obviously going to be more eco-friendly," she said. Lukasik added she would love to know if Lafarge will sell or open the restored area for recreational use once the quarry's blasting days are done.
So far, Lafarge expects to "maintain long-term ownership" of the lands, said spokesperson Karine Cousineau. There's plenty of time to make a decision, though, since parts of the quarry could stay active for decades given the planned expansion.
Still, turning former quarries into swimming holes is "not uncommon," said Stone, so long as excavation occurred below the water table. Right now, Lafarge has to constantly pump water out of its quarry to prevent a premature lake from forming. The restoration plan suggests allowing water to flow naturally from the quarry-turned-lakes into Logie's Creek, which feeds Tew's Falls.
Privately owned Gulliver's Lake campground in Flamborough is a classic example of a popular converted former quarry.
Regardless, Cousineau said the updated rehabilitation plans will not delay restoration until the entire licensed area is emptied of limestone. She said the company is required to do "progressive" restoration and that recontouring of slopes and tree-planting areas is already underway.
Lafarge also says the lake plan will end up helping "restore" the water table around the Flamborough quarry — a long-standing concern for residents. Cousineau said the flooded quarry should allow groundwater levels "to return to approximately their natural historical pre-quarry state."
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