Residents of Conestogo opposing the establishment of a gravel pit in their neighbourhood will need more than NIMBY arguments if they are to build a convincing case, say neighbourhood representatives.
Hosting a public meeting at the Conestoga Country Club on Monday evening, members of the Conestogo-Winterbourne Residents Association (CWRA) urged locals to write well-informed letters to their government representatives, raising substantive arguments against the proposal.
“At this point we’re in a position where we have to write letters of opposition; we have to give reasons to oppose, and we’re not going on the NIMBY theory,” said CRWA president Keri Martin Vrbanac.
“We want to give substantial and significant reasons why we don’t think that this gravel pit is being proposed in a place that is acceptable to our community.”
Hunder Development has applied for a provincial license under the Aggregate Resources Act and for a municipal zone change amendment to operate a gravel pit on Hunsberger Road, one of five applications currently under review in Woolwich Township. Because of its proximity to the village, this one is drawing almost as much heat as Capital Paving’s bid for a pit near the West Montrose covered bridge.
The Hunder proposal is for 160 hectares (400 acres) of nearby farmland, where the company wants to extract 500,000 tonnes of gravel annually for eight to 10 years.
But residents are mounting vociferous opposition, arguing that heavy trucks and gravel extraction won’t gel with Conestogo’s historic main street and residential areas.
“This is just not an appropriate place to put a gravel pit,” said Martin Vrbanac, noting that heavy truck traffic along the Sawmill Road, which passes by the public school, is a major concern.
“We’re concerned about safety, the safety of our children.”
Residents are also worried about the effects of gravel extraction on private wells.
The proposed pit is surrounded by residences, some of which are within 100 metres of the site.
When people moved to the “small, quaint community” they weren’t picturing the traffic, dust and noise that would come with the inner workings of a gravel pit, she added.
While the developer sympathizes with the concerns of his neighbours, he is confident that he and his consultants are doing what they can to address those issues.
“People’s concerns are always founded; I’ve said to many of our neighbours, as we’ve had discussions over the last number of years, never in my life [have I] heard anybody say, ‘Gee, I’m really hoping they put a gravel pit in close to my place,’ so it’s understandable that people have concerns and of course all concerns are founded, so we want to address that,” said Bob Hunsberger, co-owner of Hunder Development, a former pig farmer and current resident on the Hunsberger Road property.
“We think that we have tried to develop a site plan that minimizes what we anticipate to be the concerns and issues and hopefully the neighbours will agree.”
The site plan has already been approved by the Ministry of Natural Resources and is also recognized by MNR and regional plan maps, said Hunsberger. Hunder now has to wait for the township to consider re-zoning the property for extraction, and for the MNR to grant it an aggregate license.
Hunsberger noted that, at a time when road and infrastructure projects are on the rise, the benefits of having a gravel pit close to home shouldn’t be overlooked.
“Local gravel is like local food: if we can use what’s close by, we do less environmental damage.”
But as the company waits to hear from the MNR and the township, the CWRA is looking to mount a quick and effective opposition campaign. It is now seeking funds to secure legal and consulting services.
Martin Vrbanac said that in the early stages opposition to the gravel pit proposal was rather weak as residents felt it was likely just a question of time before the pit was approved. Now, however, as they become more informed on the issue, the feeling of inevitability has faded.
“I think people are coming to realize that that’s not necessarily the case, and I think people need to realize that the mandate of our community association is to either stop the pit all together or to mitigate its impact; so maybe we won’t stop the pit, but maybe we’ll make it really non-invasive to our community.
A public meeting hosted by the applicant is scheduled for Monday night at Conestogo Public School. The township will also hold a public meeting to address the zone change issue in the near future.