This Magazine

Progressive politics, ideas & culture


If Sarah Harmer tells me to not like gravel, should I not like it?

This Magazine Staff

Judging by my own and my friends’ reaction to every new album, I am Sarah Harmer’s core audience demographic. I pay to download her music. I buy her CDs as gifts for friends. I have attempted to fit one of her rare live TO performances into my very busy life. I quote her lyrics in my writing. Way back when, I used to go see the Saddletramps, and even put together an arts benefit with them at Lee’s Palace. That’s right, the Saddletramps. Deal with that, youth of today. Finally, day after day, I bother my work associate with Escarpment Blues, a Harmer song, because I love it and can’t stop listening to it on my iTunes. I’m listening to it right now.
So, naturally when I saw Ms. Harmer on the cover of NOW, I stopped and made the purchase (I know, NOW is free, but I feel I leave a bit of my soul behind whenever I pick up Toronto’s “alternative” paper — just a personal opinion).
Harmer’s activism is the focus of the NOW piece, specifically her campaign to save the Niagara Escarpment from an aggregate company’s expansion. It seems Nelson Aggregate Co. intends to expand their current diggings into the escarpment to help supply the ever increasing market for crushed rock to Toronto’s building boom. The inevitable local advocacy group has sprung up to question the environmental impact of the scheme, as they should. Harmer is this group’s very public face — check them out on their own website: Protecting Escarpment Rural Land.
After doing my own reading on the issue, I lean toward Sarah Harmer (surprise, surprise) yet the NOW article continues to nettle me and make me wonder about the whole idea of celebrity advocacy, or at least the need for responsible media coverage of celebrity advocacy. Read by anyone less enamoured with Harmer’s talents as singer/songwriter, the piece might come across as pretty flakey NIMBYism tarted up as genuine environmental concern. The article begins with a dreamy Harmer gazing off into the distance, past picturesque Mount Nemo to that soulless Babylon, Toronto, and its inexhaustible hunger for Burlington gravel. Except that she’s doing her gazing from her parents’ farmhouse, and the quarry in question is almost literally in their backyard. Here’s the next bit:
A country block up the road, across lush, green wetlands, great smoky machines dig and chew, turning rock into gravel that’s used to build highways and condos and, yes, parking lots.
Mount Nemo is on the ragged spine of the Niagara Escarpment, which stretches 725 kilometres from Niagara Falls to Tobermory, and has a heart shape when seen from above. At the centre of that heart, amid the streams, ponds and woodlands that rare and endangered plants and animals like the Jefferson salamander and butternut tree call home, is a limestone quarry, one of 44 such pits that dot the escarpment like a pox. Ironically, Harmer points out, “quarry” is derived from “cor,” the Latin word for heart.
Oh, come on. A pox on glaringly unbalanced reporting propped up with strained poetics.
Nelson Aggregate, judging by local media reports, has not been the best neighbour to the good folks of Burlington, but they make a compelling enviro-argument for expanding the quarry closest to the Toronto market. From their website:
If that same quantity of aggregate had to come from the next closest area of significant aggregate reserves (about 30km further), the additional truck transport to get the same amount of aggregate delivered to where it is needed in the market, would result in:
95,000 tonnes of extra greenhouse gases
34.5 million litres of extra fuel consumption
$162 million in extra transport costs (at today’s cost)
72 million extra heavy truck kilometers
All of those impacts would be incurred just to transport the same quantity of aggregate to the same market area from a bit further away.
Who’s right; who’s wrong? The lilting voice of Sarah Harmer leads me to think that quarries may just be a pox on the landscape, dammit! yet all the NOW article has done is make me wonder if I’m being lulled by pretty music into supporting the opening of a new quarry in someone else’s less famous backyard.

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