Gardeners, landscapers and horticulturists should give a collective green thumbs down to peat strip-mined from the vulnerable Alfred Bog, an activity endangering rare species, destroying wildlife habitat, and draining the local water table.
So says a loose citizens' coalition calling itself the Bog Angels which has branded as chief culprit Mordugno-Hortibec Inc. which runs one of the most extensive peat mining operations in the area. The company's garden peat products are sold under the brand name Super Mix.
But Pierre Mercier, planning director for the United Counties of Prescott and Russell, said the company in question is one of the more responsible among about a dozen extractors and operates outside the official 9,000-acre bog.
In fact, Mercier added, all extractors are prohibited from working the bog under restrictions imposed by the townships of Nation and Alfred-Plantagenet. He said Prescott-Russell is one of the few jurisdictions in the province where extractors have been operating in sensitive wetlands.
Angel Ian Hepburn countered that the size of the true bog is in dispute. His group maintains it's at least 10,500 acres which would rope in Mordugno-Hortibec and several other peat miners. He said the 9,000-acre figure was arbitrarily set and, even if it were accepted, provisions for a 120-metre buffer, water-taking restrictions and other guidelines not now being enforced should prevent most mining.
Hepburn said the discrepancy arises from the fact his group wants to terminate all peat mining on sensitive wetlands within the counties while Mercier is attempting to work with extractors to preserve the industry under tighter controls.
Fearing a future crack down on their activities, the extractors have gone to the Ontario Municipal Board to protest limitations contained in the counties draft official plan which has led to three days of mediation at l'Orignal beginning June 21.
The Angels' advisory against strip-mined peat was issued in a news release under the heading "Save the Alfred Bog". It points out that natural peat is extracted though the environmentally unfriendly process of draining and clearing wetland and that gardening substitutes are available including compost, coconut fiber and certified peat.
In general, the advisory points out, the manner in which peat is extracted in the Alfred Bog is in violation of the preservation and reclamation policy of the Canadian Sphagnum Peat Moss Association. That includes leaving buffer zones of original vegetation and a layer of peat below harvesting levels to encourage rapid re-growth.
Home to moose, rare orchids and other interesting flora and fauna, the bog has for years been a war zone between property owners, environmentalists, municipal planners, government agencies, commercial extractors and politicians.
For example, area property owner and Bog Angel Peter Pascal recently erected a sign on his property condemning a peat extractor and Nation Township for making his life miserable by disrupting his peace and tranquillity.
Pascal claims the commercial extraction activities of his neighbour are occurring illegally on rural land zoned RU1 which permits agricultural use adjacent to his own 100 acres. Not only is Pascal fed up with the noise, dust and vibration caused by the activities, he's concerned about the impact of the peat removal on the sensitive area ecology.
The continuous passage of large dump trucks, the use of steam shovels and the operation of a screening plant do not suggest an agricultural use nor does it appear to reflect any other type of use in an RU1 zone, Pascal said, estimating that 50 tractor trailers a day go by his door during peak season. He said most of the truckloads of peat are headed to Quebec where most extractors live and keep their offices.
Nation Township council has asked the Prescott-Russell planning department to draft for it a new comprehensive zoning bylaw which will address peat extraction and its impact on abutting property owners.
The Nation administration is also considering other tools to ensure such activities are more closely controlled including an anti-noise bylaw and a restricted hours of operation bylaw.
Mercier suggested peat extracting should be controlled in much the same way as the sand and aggregate industry which is kept in check both by provincial legislation and municipal bylaws.