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Council upholds gravel pit decision

Revelations the site was once home to a waste dump failed to deter Woolwich councillors, who this week formally upheld a pledge to support a gravel pit operation near Winterbourne.

Even with Coun. Sandy Shantz’s change of heart – she added a ‘no’ vote to Coun. Murray Martin’s – the project squeaked by in a 3-2 vote Nov. 23. As with last week’s meeting, residents’ appeals to defer the issue to the next term of council fell on deaf ears, prompting another round of derisive comments from the gallery.

Several residents who addressed council noted the decision to push ahead would reflect poorly on the legacy of this council, which met for the last time Tuesday night.

“Any of the good things accomplished by this council in the past will be forgotten. The legacy you will leave behind is one of disrespect for the voting public’s wishes and the democratic process that was carried out Oct. 25,” said West Montrose resident Lynne Hare, arguing a deferral would be in keeping with the message sent by voters in last month’s municipal election.

Mayor Bill Strauss, Ward 1 Coun. Ruby Weber and Ward 3’s Martin all failed to win re-election. Gravel was a major issue in the campaign – two other large operations are proposed for locations near to Conestogo and West Montrose. Given that Shantz opted not to run again, four newcomers will be sworn into office Dec. 7, with only Coun. Mark Bauman returning from this session.

For Bauman, voting in favour of the Kuntz Topsoil, Sand and Gravel application made the most sense looking down the road to an almost-certain appeal to the Ontario Municipal Board.

He said he’s convinced supporting the staff recommendation is the best way to ensure the concessions agreed to by the applicant are part of the final deal if the gravel pit goes ahead, an argument that did not go down well with residents who attended Tuesday’s meeting.

Added to the list of conditions attached to the zone change was the need for an environmental assessment of the former dump site, with remediation to follow if necessary. Other demands include a reduction in the hours of operation and a sunset clause that calls for the operation to shut down within 15 years at the latest.

While information about the waste dump is still sketchy, director of engineering and planning Dan Kennaley said there’s sufficient evidence to show it exists. Anecdotal information says the site was more than just a dumping ground for one farm operation, that it may have been used communally.

Items buried there may include medical waste from a veterinary operation and at least one large drum of polishing liquid.

The landowner will have to investigate the extent of the pollution. While most of the land falls outside of the area slated for gravel extraction, there’s a chance some contaminants have spilled into the mining area, said Kennaley.

Residents who brought the dump site to the township’s attention were disappointed by the reaction: they’d been hoping it would be one more reason for council to put off a decision.

Other residents stressed the damage to the landscape surrounding the culturally significant steel bridge in Winterbourne, as well as the potential loss of millions of dollars in property values, to no avail.

“I don’t see how they ignored what we said tonight. Council is supposed to look out for the residents – they’re missing their role in this,” said Conestogo resident Rick Stroobosscher after Tuesday’s vote.

However, while councillors voted in favour of the pit, the approval is only provisional. There are conditions to be met prior to a final vote on the zone-change application, not likely to appear before the new council line-up until next spring.

The Kuntz proposal calls for rezoning some 90 acres of agricultural land at 125 Peel St. to permit extraction on approximately half the property, which contains an estimated 840,000 tonnes of aggregate.

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