Environmental activists in Southern Ontario are experiencing something rare and unexpected today: a victory. Word came this morning that one of the province’s most controversial proposals, the mega-quarry in Melancthon (near Orangeville), has been withdrawn.

The Highland Companies, the corporation responsible for plans, stated this morning that, “the application does not have sufficient support from the community and government to justify proceeding with the approval process”, and that their president, John Lowndes, has resigned and is leaving the company. Lands they’ve purchased over the past few years are now slated to remain agricultural.

Reactions from the environmental community, so far, have been euphoric. This quarry, which was to be the province’s largest (second in North America) and would affect the water supply of around a million people, became the target of activists across Ontario last year.

The trouble started when area residents noticed new “irrigation” wells and dissappearing homes. When they looked into “The Highlands Company”, it was soon revealed to be a front for investors such as Boston-based hedge fund Baupost Group who seemed mainly interested in gravel. It had been quietly buying land in the area for years, claiming it planned to grow potatoes (and becoming the area’s largest spud-grower in the process. The area affected includes very high quality farmland, but thanks to the poor state of rural economies Highlands was able to amass thousands of hectares, bulldozing at least 30 farmhouses in the process, some over a century old. When the quarry proposal was made official in April of last year, opposition exploded.

Before long it seemed everybody from anarchist land defenders to the Council of Canadians and David Suzuki Foundation and even the National Farmers Union were making the issue a priority. Festivals like Soupstock and Foodstock were held, bringing together local food and musicians in protest. For environmental activists across the province, “the mega-quarry” became the next big thing, and for bureaucrats, that’s one of the worst things which can happen to a project.

Today’s victory shows that it is possible to “win”. Despite support from the (now former) premier and an enormous flow of foreign capital, they couldn’t fight the coordinated efforts of ordinary Ontarians. For opponents of projects like Aerotropolis, the Mid-Peninsula Highway and new plans to reverse Enbridge’s Line 9 pipeline (the next, next big thing?), this is very encouraging news. Rural communities and cities can connect across large regions to oppose common threats, and together, they can succeed.

Perhaps there is a little hope left for our battered planet after all.

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