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Residents oppose gravel pit

Conestogo-area residents have seen the future, and they don’t like it one bit.

Painting a picture filled with heavy equipment grinding away all day long, dust filling the air and large trucks crowding pedestrians and cyclists off of area rounds, they called on Woolwich council to put the brakes on gravel pit development.

The focus of their attention this week was the Hunder Developments bid for a sprawling pit immediately to the east of Conestogo. A public meeting Tuesday night saw some 150 people pack council chambers in opposition to the project.

The proposal would see a gravel pit operation sprawling over 150 acres of land on two farm properties located at 128 Katherine St. S. and 1081 Hunsberger Rd. The company hopes to remove 4.3 million metric tonnes of aggregate, proposing to extract up to 500,000 tonnes per year.

Township senior planner Jeremy Vink said information filed by the applicant indicates the pit would operate six days a week, from 7 a.m. to 7 p.m., requiring an average of 18 trucks per hour to pass through its gates.

Decrying the negative impacts of the so-called Hunsberger pit, the Conestogo-Winterbourne Residents Association (CWRA) pointed to the applications for other gravel pits in the immediate vicinity – particularly on Jigs Hollow Road and the Capital Paving proposal in West Montrose – as creating the potential for a cumulative nightmare for those living in that part of the township.

Association president Keri Martin Vrbanac said studies submitted by the company fail to make the case for the Hunsberger pit.

“They can’t show they need – there are plenty of existing pits. The need can’t be the financial need of Hunder Developments.”

The financial gain of the developer versus the quality-of-life disruptions of the surrounding residents was an oft-repeated theme as speaker after speaker spoke out against the project.

Also prevalent were worries about noise and the dangers of increased truck traffic. As with the CWRA presentation dismantling the company’s studies, many of those who spoke challenged the facts presented in the reports filed by Hunder Developments.

Golf Course Road resident John Mowbray, an electrical engineer who has worked with acoustic studies, disputed the noise measurements submitted by the company. Instead of using a rural standard of 45 decibels as baseline, the company went with the urban standard of 50, which is three times higher. His own measurements put the area clearly in the rural standard, he said.

He also called the Hunder traffic study flawed, noting the volume of trucks would turn the already-dangerous Crowsfoot corner intersection into an even riskier proposition.

“When you’re dealing with gravel trucks, it’s fatal,” he said.

In the view of Conestogo’s Evan Cox, the cumulative effect of the proposed pits and the existing gravel truck traffic adds up to a major safety issue. He estimated an additional 25,000 trucks would pass through the intersection of Northfield Drive and Sawmill Road, which is already difficult to negotiate at times.

That alone should be reason enough to axe the proposal, he said – “We owe it to ourselves and to the community to put safety first.”

For its part, the company said its project would meet all the necessary standards to fit into the surroundings.

David Sisco, a planner with the IBI Group, noted extraction would take place on only 36 per cent of the property, leaving ample setbacks. Furthermore, large berms and other buffering techniques would be used to reduce noise and dust levels and to shield residents from having to view the operation.

In response to a question from Coun. Sandy Shantz, Sisco said the timing of each phase of development and the ultimate closing and rehabilitation of the site would depend on the demand for gravel.

“It’s hard to say, because it’s market driven. Chances are it’s probably going to be 20 years,” he said of the pit’s expected lifespan.

Tuesday night’s meeting was for information purposes only, part of the zone-change process required under the Planning Act. The company is also moving through a parallel evaluation process under the Aggregate Resources Act, a review handled by the Ministry of Natural Resources.

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