Tempers flare over gravel pit approval

There was no warm send-off for Woolwich councillors Tuesday night. Their decision to approve a gravel pit application saw to that.

Last updated on May 04, 23

Posted on Nov 19, 10

4 min read

There was no warm send-off for Woolwich councillors Tuesday night. Their decision to approve a gravel pit application saw to that.

Meeting for the last time as a committee of the whole – a final council meeting will be held Nov. 23 – councillors gave conditional approval for a new pit at 125 Peel St., Winterbourne, despite pleas from a dozen delegates to defer or defeat the application. A full public gallery jeered the decision, a 3-1 vote, with only Coun. Murray Martin opposed.

The vote went ahead despite a staff recommendation the issue be deferred to the next session of council, when the newly-elected politicians could deal with the application in context of two much larger pits proposed for the area. Council’s decision to press ahead incensed the audience, but Coun. Mark Bauman argued the township has promised the applicant, Kuntz Topsoil, Sand and Gravel Ltd., that it would make a decision before the end of the current council’s term.

“It’s an issue of integrity,” he said, drawing the ire of those in the gallery.

The decision may be moot, however, as it could still be reconsidered by the new council, which will be sworn-in Dec. 7.

This week’s zone-change approval was conditional, with outstanding issues such as well-water monitoring figures having to be completed before the deal is finalized. That’s not likely until next spring. Between now and then, at any rate, a new council has the right to review the decision.

In that light, mayor-elect Todd Cowan, who attended the meeting Tuesday night, said in an interview the township is not handcuffed by the decision.

While not necessarily opposed to the project or other gravel pits, he said council is charged with protecting residents and will review the applications accordingly.

“We got a mandate for change – that’s what we’re going to deliver on.”

Those words will be music to the ears of residents who repeatedly reminded councillors the Oct. 25 election was a vote against gravel pits.

“Although legally you may have the right to make decisions concerning this aggregate application, morally you do not. I think the vote (Oct. 25) was a non-confidence vote by the electorate in this council’s ability to represent the interests of the constituents of this township on issues of aggregate,” said West Montrose resident Lynne Hare, expressing a common sentiment.

Many of those out Tuesday night, and expected back next week, will have similar messages for the next council, where four of the five spaces will be filled by newcomers.

As with the two other large pits – Capital Paving in West Montrose and Hunder Developments near Conestogo – residents have serious concerns about traffic, safety, noise, water pollution and the landscape. They’re expected to continue to hammer home that point, likely all the way to an Ontario Municipal Board hearing in every case.

There, the arguments will be like those of Winterbourne resident Jan Huissoon, a professor of mechanical engineering at the University of Waterloo, who called into question the noise studies submitted by the applicant. His calculations show the berms and other noise-attenuation measures proposed for the site will be inadequate.

Noting that an “amphitheatre effect” exists in the area – noise would travel upwards to homes on the high ground surrounding the low-lying pit – he said the quiet rural neighbourhoods will be adversely affected.

“We’re not not going to be seriously impacted,” he said, dismissing claims the pit would have no unacceptable social impacts on neighbours.

He called on councillors to explain what happens if the operation is far noisier than expected.

“What happens then? What’s our recourse?”

For Conestogo resident Bill Norrish, the project is going ahead for the benefit of one person at the expense of hundreds of others who’ll pay both financially and through diminished quality of life.

That, he said, is enough to warrant turning down the application.

“There’ll be a decline in real estate values … $8 million in our community lost so that one individual can come in and make a profit,” he said, adding the township will lose more money than it collects from the operation.

With an expected haul of 840,000 metric tonnes of gravel expected over the entire life of the pit, Woolwich’s share, at $0.06 per tonne, would amount to $50,000. That’s the same figure the township has pledged toward paving a stretch of Jigs Hollow Road from the entrance to the operation to Northfield Drive.

Even with increased property taxes moving to an industrial class from the current agricultural zoning, the revenues to the township wouldn’t cover the wear-and-tear on roadways, finance director Richard Petherick said in a later interview.

In approving the Kuntz application, council did impose a number of restrictions on the operation, most notably a sunset clause: the pit is to close within 15 years.

That item proved most contentious, with the applicant opposed and two of the councillors looking to ease the restrictions.

David Sisco, a planner with IBI Group representing Kuntz Topsoil, Sand and Gravel, argued against the clause, noting his client had agreed to all other concessions, including shortening the hours of operation.

Of some 6,100 gravel pits and quarries in the province, only one has a sunset clause imposed on it – why impose such measures on the Winterbourne operation? he asked.

With a licence to remove up to 150,000 tonnes a year, Kuntz could play out the 840,000 tonnes of aggregate in less than six years, but the rate of extraction will depend on market demand, said Sisco, maintaining resources should not be left in the ground if not all of it is sold within 15 years.

His argument resonated with Bauman, who looked for alternatives to ensure the pit would be decommissioned in a timely manner. He worried the clause might not stand up at an Ontario Municipal Board appeal.

But director of planning and engineering Dan Kennaley, calling it “legal, appropriate and necessary,” said the sunset clause is defensible. Furthermore, he would be unable to support the zone change application without the cause, adding the impacts would be unacceptable otherwise.

This week’s raucous session is not the last residents have heard of this issue. The next step comes Tuesday night when councillors meet for the last time: the decisions made Nov. 16 have to be formally ratified.

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