Plans for a new gas station in Elmira are on hold a little longer as the township looks into concerns about underground fuel-storage tanks. While planning staff is ready to sign off on a zone-change application, councillors still have some reservations given the community’s longstanding problems with groundwater.
Councillors meeting Tuesday night voted to defer a decision on the rezoning application submitted by 2070227 Ontario Ltd. to lift a prohibition on underground tanks. The company wants to put the fuel underground when it adds a gas station, convenience store and automatic carwash to its site at 110 Earl Martin Dr., currently home to a manual carwash.
All of the proposed new uses, including a gas station with above-ground tanks, are permitted under the existing zoning. On the issue of burying the tanks, however, councillors had misgivings following a presentation by Susan Bryant of the watchdog group APT Environment.
Bryant argued against underground tanks given that the site’s close proximity to a well that serves a major role in the pump-and-treat system containing the spread of NDMA contaminants in the aquifer under Elmira. Chemical producer Chemtura Co. has been treating the underground water since the carcinogen was discovered in 1989, eliminating the local source of drinking water and forcing the construction of a pipeline from Waterloo.
“This is the last finger in the dike,” said Bryant of the extraction well, known as E7/E9, operated by Chemtura as it attempts to remediate the groundwater, adding that it’s a “key part in the whole system.”
Dan Kennaley, the township’s director of engineering and planning, noted buffer zones – a 100-metre setback – called for under provincial guidelines apply only to wells used to supply drinking water, which is not the case in Elmira. The Region of Waterloo, which supplies water to the municipality, doesn’t object to the underground fuel tanks, he added.
“They don’t have a problem with it.”
Acknowledging the setback guidelines, Bryant said a fuel spill at the gas bar, while unlikely, could interfere with the pump-and-treat system operated by Chemtura.
“There’s a risk to the proper functioning of that well,” she said, arguing that protection of that well needs to be part of the planning process.
Her worries were heard by councillors, who said they wanted more information, including input from Chemtura, before making a decision.
Concerned that simply turning down the request for underground storage would fuel an appeal to the Ontario Municipal Board, Coun. Mark Bauman said a deferral would allow for additional discussions with the applicant as well. In the event of an appeal, the township would have to hire outside planning consultants, as staff has already recommended approval of the underground tanks.
Coun. Julie-Anne Herteis, however, seemed convinced about the risks.
“I don’t want to see them underground. I’d rather not take any more chances.”