A comprehensive review of the province’s Aggregate Resources Act is needed to protect farmland and rural lifestyles, says the MPP for Kitchener-Conestoga.
With the historic covered bridge in West Montrose as a backdrop, Leeanna Pendergast this week called for the creation of a plan for aggregates in Ontario that considers local agriculture, natural heritage and sustainable community development.
“We need new policies which reflect the current situation in our community,” she said. “Like many other communities across Ontario, Woolwich Township can no longer bear the pressures placed on it by the demand for aggregate – Our community is growing, and we are undervaluing the importance of our farmland and healthy communities.”
Noting there are already 86 active gravel pits in Waterloo Region, with applications in place for eight more – including five in Woolwich – Pendergast said this area has done it part providing essential building materials.
“I ask you, when is enough enough?”
Her statements met with enthusiastic response from about 50 residents, many of whom are involved in the fight against gravel pit applications on lands close to the Kissing Bridge, as well as Conestogo and Winterbourne.
Pendergast was joined at Tuesday’s event by former provincial minister of natural resources Donna Cansfield, who endorsed her proposal.
With a population expected to grow by millions over the next few decades, Ontario will have to find a sustainable way to provide building materials while maintaining the farmland needed to feed all those people, Cansfield argued.
Both acknowledged the aggregate industry is an important part of the economy. Aside from providing a fundamental building material – more than 60 per cent of the gravel extracted is used for road infrastructure, with provincial and municipal governments the largest consumer –the industry employs 35,000 people (directly and indirectly) and contributes $3.2 billion to the provincial economy.
But, said Pendergast, the industry is often in conflict with other uses for the land, especially given provincial guidelines that the materials be extracted close to where they’re used. Because most of the growth is in southern Ontario, that means gravel is extracted from areas of prime farmland.
“Aggregate is where it is – we can’t move it. The question is, how do we handle it appropriately?” she said, calling for a review of the long-term impact of gravel pits and their affect on the land that has to provide food for our children and grandchildren. “That land has to be here for them and their children.”
For Tony Dowling, co-chair of the West Montrose Residents’ Association – the BridgeKeepers, there’s much at stake, and the current battle between gravel pits and other land uses is weighted in favour of the aggregate industry.
“Let’s start with a couple of absolute truths. Truth number one: We all need sand, stone and gravel. We use it for roads, houses, bridges, hospitals and schools. In Ontario, we use about 160 million tonnes of aggregate every year. We have to have aggregate and we have to get it from somewhere,” he said.
“Truth number two: Pits are a pain. They are noisy and dusty. They’re ugly. They displace farmland and mess up the landscape. They spew carcinogens into the air. They put heavy, stinky trucks on our roads.
They strip away the gravel that filters our drinking water. Simply put, pits aren’t very nice.”
Noting that areas such as West Montrose are under siege from aggregate operations, he argued “there’s a place for pits – this is not the place for these pits. We have to put pits in their place.”
To audience refrains of “your pit’s in the wrong place,” Dowling rhymed off dozens of reasons for opposing the large-scale pits planned for the area.
“There’s a place for gravel pits in Waterloo Region. There’s a place for gravel pits in Woolwich Township. And there’s even a place for gravel pits around West Montrose. But at the top of that hill – 180 metres from Ontario’s only remaining covered bridge, 75 metres from homes, 100 metres from the river – in the middle of a cultural heritage landscape, on prime farmland, driving hundreds of trucks past horses and buggies and Mennonite kids? Your pit’s in the wrong place,” he said in a rousing end to his speech.