Tiny park to rock aggregrate drone research over next few years

If you see drones flying above Toanche Park over the next few years, it could be part of a university study regarding aggregate pit monitoring and reclamation.

Tiny Township council recently passed a motion supporting a research proposal put forth by the Ontario Aggregate Resources Corporation (TOARC), which would have university researchers using drone technology to fly over pre-licensed aggregate pits to measure rehabilitation efforts since decommission.

Within the matter for consideration at the recent regular meeting of council, a proposal titled ‘rapid assessment of naturalized legacy pit restoration success’ by Tim P. Duval and Yuhong He of the department of Geography, Geomatics and Environment at the University of Toronto Mississauga explained that a full project had selected Tiny Township as one of its three sites to study.

Public works director Tim Leitch told council that the Toanche Park toboggan hill at 771 Champlain Road had once been an aggregate pit, and fit the proposal’s criteria.

“Through this agreement, (the TOARC are) looking at coming up with better methods to monitor the reclamation of pits,” explained Leitch. “When you close them down, you have a certain obligation to reclaim them back to their natural state.”

According to TOARC, proper rehabilitation would address social, economic and environmental concerns while ensuring land is restored to a viable ecosystem. Regrading a site and adding topsoil and seeding with native vegetation is a first start, but the end results are unknown.

TOARC was created by the Ministry of Natural Resources and Forestry in 1997 to handle various aggregate responsibilities including fees, rehabilitation, and providing education from collected statistics. Currently, over 8,200 records exist of legacy pits and quarries within Ontario, qualified if documented and located in designated areas under the Aggregate Resources Act, 1990, and not holding a licence prior to December 31, 1989.

“They want to do a 'groundtruthing',” stated Leitch. “They’ll fly the drone over and then they’ll look at what type of activity happened on there from plantings, animals, and the topography. Then they go on the ground and verify that data to make sure there’s a comparison.

“They continually try to work at that so that eventually they can get to drone technology, fly over a multitude – thousands of these pits – and get good, accurate data on the reclamation.”

After speaking to a TOARC representative, Leitch added: “They’re not looking to come in and see what we did, and if we did anything wrong – they’re not looking for trouble. They just want to come in and utilize some of these older sites because there’s so much old history there, and use that as their data collection.”

The project would take place during several months over the three-year proposal, with an additional meteorological station being installed to further data collection.

Simcoe County is the leading producer of aggregate in Ontario over the past decade, with aggregate pits in Tiny Township producing roughly 570,000 metric tonnes in 2022.

Coun. Dave Brunelle expressed interest in the magnitude of aggregate pits across Tiny Township, asking staff if a report existed which showed where those could be as well as their licensing and reclamation statuses.

Leitch replied: “There are historic pits – I didn’t even know this one existed. They’re all over the place. For staff to try and investigate that would be a monumental task that would be virtually impossible.”

He reiterated that the pit owners were responsible for their own pits, and when pressed further by Brunelle for a number, Leitch said that to come up with any number would be inaccurate although TOARC managed a list of active and licensed pits.

When Brunelle asked if the township owned or operated any aggregate pits, Leitch responded that there was only the public works gravel pit land at 340 Concession 9 East.

Mayor Dave Evans expressed his support for the initiative.

“I think it’s a great idea, and further to the cause of environmentalism and pit rehabilitation. I think this is great, helping the community as a whole,” said Evans. “I’m fully behind it.”

The Ontario Aggregate Resources Corporation proposal, including a link to the University of Toronto dataset from the pilot project, can be viewed on the agenda page on the Township of Tiny website.

Archives of council meetings are available to view on the township’s YouTube channel.

Derek Howard, Local Journalism Initiative Reporter, MidlandToday.ca