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Withdrawal of gravel pit application a reason to celebrate

First came Woolwich’s decision to close the file. Then the company’s withdrawal of its application for a gravel pit. Now residents of West Montrose can finally relax. And celebrate, which they’ll do next month.

Last week’s announcement by Capital Paving that it would no longer seek an aggregate-extraction licence for a site near the village essentially put an end to a five-year battle. It was welcome news for the West Montrose Residents’ Association, a.k.a. the BridgeKeepers.

Tony Dowling, the group’s co-chair, said he was delighted with the township’s decision last month to deem the application closed, but only following the company’s announcement were residents ready to “break out the champagne.”

Woolwich’s decision enlivened the group, but there was still a chance the company would launch a legal challenge, he said. Now, the matter is settled.

“While the company truly believes that it could have operated the gravel pit responsibly and with respect for surrounding neighbours, Capital decided to acknowledge the concerns of the local community of West Montrose and the covered bridge,” the company said in a release August 9, announcing its withdrawal of its application.

Last month, having heard nothing in the past year from the Guelph-based company, township council voted to deem the file closed, leaving Capital with the option of submitting a new bid for a gravel pit on Letson Drive or launching an appeal.

The now-closed application dates back to September 2008. However, there had been little movement or even discussion of the bid since 2010. Capital Paving was involved in legal action against Woolwich’s 2008 plan to tighten up its rules governing gravel pit applications, appealing official plan amendment 13 (OPA 13) to the Ontario Municipal Board. The company argued its application predated the new rules, meaning it did not have to submit the additional studies demanded under the new policy.

The township eventually reached an agreement with Capital Paving, pre-empting a hearing.

In 2009, the company pressed the township to speed up its handling of the application, while planning staff called for more information and studies from the applicant.

The process became more complicated – and further delayed – when Woolwich launched a formal review to determine if the area around the West Montrose covered bridge should be deemed a cultural heritage landscape (CHL). All development was frozen under an interim control bylaw, and the area was eventually given protection.

Any new applications for aggregate extraction would have to be made under the new, more stringent rules.

With the withdrawal of the application, residents were quick to offer up praise to the company for its decision.

“We bear no malice towards Capital,” said BridgeKeepers co-chair Doug Cerson in a statement. “Their business depends on extracting aggregate, and they have to find viable places to do that.

“On first examination, this site might have looked acceptable. They didn’t have the advantage that we do of experiencing the area firsthand. To their credit, as the body of science and opinion opposing the site expanded and as they had time to further consider the application, they decided to step away. We applaud them for that decision.”

Added Dowling, “To Capital’s credit, they acknowledged they didn’t expect the pushback they got from the public.”

Having come out on the winning side, the BridgeKeepers plan to turn a community barbecue already scheduled for September 21 into a celebration.

“I think it’s going to be a fun afternoon, possibly heading into the evening,” laughed Dowling.

However, the group intends to remain vigilant for the prospect of any development in the vicinity of the historic covered bridge. While Dowling predicts the “gravel will remain in the ground” due to the protection of the CHL designation, there could be other proposals floated in the future.

In the meantime, the group will keep an eye on the bridge’s health. It’s recently been meeting with representatives of the Region of Waterloo, which owns the structure, about improving signage to keep heavy vehicles from crossing.

An overweight vehicle is believed to have cracked a support beam that required emergency repairs earlier this year. Steps taken after that have reduced the number of heavy vehicles using the bridge, but more can be done, said Dowling.

“We’ve noticed some heavy vehicles in the last few months.”

Having undergone some recent repairs, the bridge itself is now in good shape, he added.

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