Seemingly eager to distance herself from an unpopular decision, Ward 3 councillor Bonnie Bryant made it clear this week that she did not support an agreement to allow the Jigs Hollow gravel pit to proceed.
At Tuesday night’s meeting of Woolwich council, she called for a recorded vote to make her colleagues reveal their positions from a behind-closed-doors meeting Nov. 12 that saw the township sign off on a plan to mine aggregate in the shallow valley between Winterbourne and Conestogo.
As was the case last week, Bryant was the lone vote against the agreement, with Mayor Todd Cowan, Coun. Mark Bauman and Coun. Julie-Anne Herteis opting for the agreement. Coun. Allan Poffenroth was absent from both meetings.
This week’s vote was an “issue of transparency,” said Bryant, who said after the meeting she had been receiving calls about the matter since the agreement was made public Nov. 15.
Outside the Woolwich Memorial Centre, where the committee-of-the-whole meeting was held to accommodate a presentation about a potential gaming facility in the township, a small group of placard-carrying residents protested the decision to allow the pit to go ahead.
Inside, Conestogo resident Dave Larke pressed councillors for an explanation, asking why they would approve a deal in the face of clear opposition from the residents.
“People feel betrayed,” he told them.
Deliberating about just what they could say given the confidential nature of the mediation sessions that led to the settlement, councillors indicated they chose to deal rather than face a lengthy and expensive Ontario Municipal Board hearing that was likely to end with a decision in favour of the applicant, Kuntz Topsoil, Sand and Gravel.
Bauman said the township got a better outcome by negotiating than it might have got if it relied solely on an OMB ruling.
Bauman is the sole member of the current council who served in the previous term, when the Jigs Hollow pit was given conditional approval. In an interview, he said a deal was the best approach given that the township would be fighting a largely unwinnable battle – “a very long-shot” in a game of “OMB roulette.”
“There’s an illusion out there that township council can stop gravel pits,” he said, noting the Ministry of Natural Resources and OMB have a long history of overriding local decision.
“At the end of the day, our legal team was able to negotiate some pretty good compromises. I think that we’ve come out further ahead.”
The agreement allows Kuntz, in partnership with Preston Sand and Gravel, to extract up to 150,000 tonnes of gravel each year from an 89-acre site at 125 Peel St.. The company may also import up to 30,000 tonnes of asphalt and concrete for recycling, as well as topsoil for screening and resale, despite Woolwich council’s rejection in June of the recycling option on health and environmental grounds.
In the agreement, the township got more controls over the site, including an ersatz sunset clause, than were originally called for, said Bauman.
Residents who attended an OMB hearing in Woolwich council chambers Nov. 15 were clearly unhappy with the deal. Five residents given participant status will have a chance to make their case when the hearing resumes Monday at 10 a.m.