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Woolwich, region oppose weakening of gravel pit rules

Unimpressed by provincial efforts to weaken controls over gravel pits, Woolwich will join Waterloo Region in a fight centered on the region’s new overarching planning document. Adopted by regional council last summer, the Regional Official Plan was recently given provisional assent by the Ministry of Municipal Affairs and Housing, subject to some revisions. While the changes are typically minor in nature, both the region and township took exception to the watering-down of the sections governing aggregate extraction.
The proposed changes are serious enough to warrant challenging them at the Ontario Municipal Board, director of engineering and planning Dan Kennaley told Woolwich councillors meeting Jan. 18.

“The policies within chapters eight and nine of the Official Plan which deal with mineral aggregate are significantly weakened by the province’s proposed modifications,” he said.

The township has a particular interest in the issue, as it is currently processing five gravel pit applications, with a sixth expected shortly.

The province is proposing to eliminate the ability to protect groundwater by zoning for depth of extraction, and to delete the region’s call for a ROP amendment in the case of below-the-water-table extraction.

As well, the province is seeking to weaken several measures in the new ROPP, including:
Policies governing whether and how mineral aggregate extraction operations will be permitted in significant woodlands, environmentally sensitive valley features and environmentally sensitive policy areas;
Policies that provide for improvements in how municipal requirements governing mineral extraction operations are implemented and enforced;
Provisions for tests applicable to below-the-water-table extraction;

Policies that would prohibit gravel extraction in areas of particular groundwater sensitivity.

Woolwich is also looking at changes in its own Official Plan that would strengthen its ability to deal with gravel pit applications.

Acting on a recommendation from new Ward 3 councillor Bonnie Bryant, planning staff will look at an amendment that would add three new criteria in evaluation requests for gravel pits: setback distance from settlement areas, the financial impact on surrounding properties and an assessment of potential contaminants on sites proposed for gravel operations.

In response to a question from Coun. Mark Bauman, Kennaley said, if approved, the tougher standards could be applied immediately to any outstanding gravel applications, including those now under review.

In a later interview, Mayor Todd Cowan said these steps – along with plans to press the Ministry of Natural Resources for improvements to aggregate policy – don’t necessarily reflect an anti-gravel stance, but rather a determination to protect the interests of the township and its residents.

“We’re not saying no to gravel, but we should be taking into account these additional considerations.”

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