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Council braces for gravel pit assault

It’s likely to be standing room only again at Woolwich council chambers Tuesday night as the township hosts a public meeting for another controversial gravel pit application, this one in West Montrose. Along with the Hunder Developments bid heard earlier this month, the Capital Paving proposal has provoked the largest public backlash. The sprawling project would bring gravel extraction close to the Grand River and the landmark covered bridge.

More than 150 people turned out for the May 4 meeting to protest plans for the Hunsberger pit immediately to the east of Conestogo. Many of the same people are likely to return next week, offering up similar objections.

“Most of the complaints center on the three big issues: traffic, noise and dust,” said Jeremy Vink, senior planner with the township.

The two applications for large pits and a third at Jigs Hollow Road are all in close proximity, and will have an impact on Conestogo, Winterbourne and West Montrose.

Complicating the Capital Paving application, however, is the desire to extract gravel below the water table. Vink said he expects to hear more arguments centered on the environmental impacts. Letters of objection are already rolling in.

“I expect I’ll be getting more letters – most of the comments come in the day before for the meeting, and I get almost as many afterwards,” he said, noting many people in the audience at public meetings listen to speakers then use the topics discussed to formalize their thoughts.

As with previous gravel pit public meetings, many comments are likely to follow.

Among those planning to speak out are members of the West Montrose Residents’ Association, the BridgeKeepers, including Tony Dowling.

“We’re trying to get the troops out. We expect to see quite a few people at the meeting.

Safety concerns will be front and center as residents call for council to back good planning and the public interest, he said.

“It really puts three schools at risk – the parochial school, Christian Foundation School in Winterbourne, and Conestogo Public School – and there’ll be a lot of students impacted,” Dowling said of the truck traffic related to gravel operations.

As Vink noted, the potential environmental damage will be a hot topic. Experts working with the BridgeKeepers have already presented material to council indicating a pit at that location could have a detrimental impact on the naturalized areas near the bridge. As well, they argued, the river is at risk, as are groundwater flows in the area.

While the township will have the public input on the two large pit applications, no decision is likely until next year, after the completion of a cultural heritage landscape (CHL) study, said Vink. That report will look at the potential impact of gravel pits on the covered bridge and the area surrounding it.

Woolwich has in place an interim control bylaw preventing any development in the West Montrose area while the CHL study is being completed. That bylaw, however, has been challenged at the Ontario Municipal Board by The Murray Group, which has its own gravel pit application in the works.

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