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Gravel pits get a rough ride

Residents’ assault on a proposed gravel pit in West Montrose had all the precision of a military operation. Given what’s at stake, that kind of effort was expected.

From experts tackling noise studies and hydrogeological data to children pulling at their heartstrings, Woolwich councillors at Tuesday night’s public meeting heard a slew of reasons to oppose a zone change application from Capital Paving. The Guelph-based company is looking to extract gravel from 115 acres near West Montrose and its historic covered bridge.

Several of West Montrose's youngest residents delivered a message to councillors, calling on them to put  safety and the environment ahead a request for a gravel pit near the village. More than 150 people turned out for Tuesday night's meeting.
Several of West Montrose's youngest residents delivered a message to councillors, calling on them to put safety and the environment ahead a request for a gravel pit near the village. More than 150 people turned out for Tuesday night's meeting.

As with a similar meeting earlier this month for a gravel pit near Conestogo, more than 150 people packed council chambers in Elmira. As was the case at that meeting, residents aired concerns about the quality of life in their community should the project go ahead, backing up their concerns with figures and expert testimony.

Dr. Kim Cuddington, a professor in the Department of Biology at the University of Waterloo, who previously addressed council about the pit’s potential impact on water, focused this time on the repercussions to the woodlot running along the river’s edge.

The company, she pointed out, is counting on those trees to block noise and dust, as well as to provide a visual screen to hide the pit. But it also intends to cut down some of the trees, which would alter the conditions of existing noise and dust studies.

And while expecting the trees to serve as a buffer zone, Capital Paving has failed to study what impact changes in the groundwater will have on the local environment, including the woodlot, Cuddington noted.

A more personal issue, the safety of neighbourhood children, was on the mind of resident Barbara Dowling. Noting there are already six to 16 gravel trucks on nearby roads every hour, she said Capital Paving’s numbers indicate their pit would add up to 35 more. In conjunction with other pits proposed for the area, that could mean another 115 trucks on the road each hour: two trucks every minute.

Although that’s a worst-case scenario, it’s a frightening prospect for residents, especially those with children, she said.

“That really scares us, and that should scare everyone in this room. We’re afraid for the safety of our children.

“You are our safety net. We need you to represent us. We need you to protect us and our children,” she told councillors.

Tackling the financial impact of the pit, Ron Hare argued Woolwich stands to lose far more money than it could ever gain from the gravel pit operation.

With an expected yield of 2.6 million tonnes, the pit would pay out less than $200,000 to the township, which gets $0.06 per tonne, and Waterloo Region ($0.015 per tonne). Citing a recent study in Caledon, however, he noted the pit would bring permanent decreases in property values, resulting in lower tax revenues.

Based on the Caledon report, homes within half a kilometre of a pit lost upwards of 25 per cent of their value; homes within one km, 15 to 20 per cent; while those at two km lost almost 15 per cent.

In the case of West Montrose, there are 130 homes within one km of the site. He estimated the loss in property taxes at $100,000 each year.

“That’s $1 million after 10 years, $2 million after 20 years and $3 million after 30 years.
“This will be very expensive to the township,” he said of the pit.

That potential shortfall of millions of dollars over the years would have to be made up somehow. Either residents across the township will pay more taxes or services will be cut across the board, he argued.

“This isn’t just a local, West Montrose issue. This stands to impact everyone in the township and the region. We don’t need to waste money; we have to be frugal and careful and wise.”

For its part, Capital Paving expects to be a good neighbour, consultant Glenn Harrington told the audience. In response to public concerns, it has scaled back the hours of operation to 7 a.m. to 7 p.m., Monday through Friday. There will be no extraction on weekends or at night. Choices such as using conveyors instead of trucks to move materials on the site and paving the internal haul road will help reduce dust and noise, he said.

Enumerating the company’s awards, Harrington argued Capital Paving is a “good corporate citizen,” with numerous studies to back up its position a gravel pit is suitable in West Montrose.

But a lawyer retained by the BridgeKeepers organization, Rodney Northey, maintained that the company’s efforts fall short.

Capital Paving, he noted, made similar assertions about a pit application in Puslinch, near Guelph. Earlier this year, however, the company lost an appeal to the Ontario Municipal Board, which dismissed some of the company’s claims.

With more at risk in West Montrose, Capital has even more to prove.

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.

The township is also looking to determine if the area surrounding the covered bridge should be deemed a cultural heritage landscape. It passed an interim control bylaw halting development pending the outcome of the study, but that measure has been appealed to the OMB by the Murray Group, which plans a gravel pit application of its own on land adjacent to the proposed Capital operation.

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