Woolwich councillors want some legal advice before considering residents’ impassioned plea to reverse their decision to support a gravel pit in the Winterbourne Valley.
Making a Hail Mary bid to overturn both Woolwich’s settlement agreement and an OMB decision, residents turned out at Tuesday night’s council meeting to condemn officials for failing to protect the public interest.
Last month, the township signed off on a deal with Kuntz Topsoil, Sand and Gravel to permit an aggregate extraction operation near Winterbourne and Conestogo. Less than two weeks later, the Ontario Municipal Board gave the go-ahead to the Jigs Hollow pit.
Kuntz, in partnership with Preston Sand and Gravel, expects to extract up to 150,000 tonnes of gravel each year from an 89-acre site at 125 Peel St. The company may also import up to 30,000 tonnes of asphalt and concrete for recycling, as well as topsoil for screening and resale.
The inclusion of recycling at the site especially enraged residents, as the deal overturned a council decision in June that specifically prohibited that practice.
“You have treated us, the citizens, like fools. Your concern all along has been for Mr. Kuntz,” said Winterbourne resident Isabel Price, calling the process “a total sham.”
Rather than defend the interests of residents, she said, council acted in secret against the public good.
“You hid behind closed doors and tell the public nothing. There was no defence of the residents – you gave us nothing.”
Conestogo resident Della Stroobosscher dismissed council’s claim it was acting in the best interest of the township in capitulating to the gravel pit applicant. The public, she said, made its position clear in voting out a “pro-aggregate council” in 2010.
Instead, the township wanted only to save some money in the OMB legal process, refusing to spend in the public interest but having no problem paying $50,000 to pave the road leading into the gravel pit despite standing to receive only a pittance in royalties.
She, too, noted that most of the decisions were made away from the public, including the reversal of the prohibition on crushing cement and asphalt to be trucked to the site.
Calling into question the OMB process, which marginalizes the public in favour of industry, she said the blame for allowing the recycling lies solely with the township, as such operations fall outside the provincial Aggregate Resources Act.
“Do the right thing and fix what you have broken before this becomes an even more costly mistake.”
By refusing to protect the citizens from the dangers of silica dust – a known carcinogen that will accompany the recycling operation in particular – the township leaves itself liable to any lawsuits that may come down the line, argued Conestogo resident Gordon Haywood.
Citing a 2008 Supreme Court decision to allow class action lawsuits by residents against such operations, in that case a cement manufacturer, he said it’s council’s responsibility to prohibit and regulate such threats.
“I believe you’ve made a grave error.”
Only Coun. Bonnie Bryant, the lone voice of dissent in council’s vote on the settlement agreement, seemed prepared to support a vote of reconsideration. Her motion to that effect was set aside when councillors asked for a deferral in order to get some legal advice on what would happen if they reversed their decision.
Director of engineering and planning Dan Kennaley said he would look into the matter, reporting back with some information at next week’s council meeting, the last before the Christmas break.
“I’m not sure that it’s even possible,” he said of a reversal.