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Residents go on the offensive prior to OMB process

Woolwich planning staff preparing for an OMB hearing got another earful this week from residents worried about the impact of the proposed Jigs Hollow gravel pit. Reflecting the coordinated effort that’s become the hallmark for opposition to gravel pits near residential areas, speakers addressing council Tuesday night hammered away at a long list of shortcomings in data presented to date by the applicant, Kuntz Topsoil, Sand and Gravel. Not sure if they’ll be able to take part in mediation talks organized by the Ontario Municipal Board, scheduled for next month, the residents want to ensure their long list of concerns are addressed appropriately. From ruining tourism in the Winterbourne valley to unacceptable noise issues, they outlined the reasons why the township should turn down the zone-change application.

The operation received conditional approval from the previous council – one of its final actions in 2010 was voting in favour of the pit – but the new council was brought in on a wave of change, in large part driven by opposition to gravel pits. The township has five applications on the books, three of them larger operations within the vicinity of Conestogo, Winterbourne and West Montrose.

One of those – the Hunder Developments application on 150 acres of land on two farm properties located at 128 Katherine St. S. and 1081 Hunsberger Rd. – was turned down by council. It, too, is the subject of an OMB action, with a prehearing meeting set for Apr. 17.

The other is Guelph-based Capital Paving’s bid to extract gravel from 115 acres near West Montrose and its historic covered bridge. That process was on hold pending the township’s study and subsequent designation of the bridge and its surroundings as a cultural heritage landscape.

Opposition to all three pits stem from compatibility issues where developers are looking to build pits near established residential neighbourhoods with significant environmental and heritage features nearby. Making a case against the Kuntz proposal, Winterbourne resident Jan Huissoon this week pointed to the tourism-boosting scenic tours – hiking, cycling and driving – that would be destroyed by the pit.

“It ceases to be a tourist attraction,” he said of the Winterbourne valley where gravel extraction is taking place.

Citing data that shows water tables in the area are higher than in the original study done in 2005, he questioned the overall economic viability of the proposed operation. Given the 1.5-metre buffer in an above-the-water-table pit, there will be less aggregate available, cutting perhaps 300,000 tonnes off of the applicant’s estimate of 840,000 tonnes available from the 90-acre site at 125 Peel St. Unable to dig as deeply as planned, the pit would present more visual and noise impacts than claimed in studies done by the applicant’s consultants, added Huissoon. That thread was picked up by Lynne Hare of West Montrose, who noted the amount of soil above the less-than-anticipated amount of aggregate – the overburden – appears to be inadequate to form the berms that form part of the noise-dampening plan for the site.With lower pit face walls, noise levels could be higher than anticipated, she added.

Hare pointed to plans to import concrete, asphalt and soil to be crushed and recycled at the site as adding to the noise levels. She called such industrial uses inappropriate for the agricultural land, noting the applicant already has such processes in place at the company’s Bridge Street location, which is more suitable as it’s adjacent to an industrial area.

She also asked the township to look into removing the western portion of the property from the rezoning application, noting Kuntz says the company has no plans to extract there. Removing the section from the zoning would require a whole new licence process if those plans change, rather than simply going to the Ministry of Natural Resources for an extension.

Hare’s arguments about the industrial uses on agricultural land prompted Coun. Bonnie Bryant to request that planning staff look into the issue. Mayor Todd Cowan, meanwhile, asked staff to incorporate concerns raised at this week’s meeting into the township’s position at the OMB hearings.

Director of engineering and planning Dan Kennaley plans to bring back a report to council Apr. 16.

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