Like the gravel pit in their backyards, Winterbourne residents are in limbo.
Unhappy the Jigs Hollow pit was given the green light, neighbours watched last fall as work began on the 89-acre site: a haul road was created and some berms ploughed into place. Since then, not much. The cause is higher-than-expected groundwater levels that have severely reduced the amount of accessible aggregate material.
The quantity of recoverable gravel was based on a 2011 measurement of the water table. Kuntz Topsoil, Sand and Gravel, later in partnership with Preston Sand and Gravel, expected to extract some 850,000 tonnes. New studies, however, show water levels are higher than initially measured, meaning there’s less gravel accessible, as extraction would have to remain at least 1.5 metres above the water table. That, in turn, poses challenges to the economic viability of the project.
In a presentation to Woolwich council June 24, Winterbourne resident Jan Huissoon said water levels in 2011 suggested a pit face of 2.4 metres, the amount of workable material between top layer of soil to be removed and 1.5 metres above the water table. Today’s levels reduce that to 0.6 metres.
“This pit is not economically viable,” with just a fraction of the area accessible.
He worries, however, that the company will make a bid to change the aggregate licence to permit below-water-table extraction. If that were to happen, he said, the land could never be rehabilitated and the prime farmland would be lost forever. Residents would be left with a unsightly, scarred landscape.
Dan Kennaley, Woolwich’s director of engineering and planning, said the township is aware of the problems and is looking to the provincial Ministry of Natural Resources for more information.
At this time, it appears the ball is in Preston Sand and Gravel’s court. What comes next is a business decision, though the ministry may have to step in if the company doesn’t act, he suggested.
If the operator did want to extract below the water table, it would have to apply for new zoning, setting off a process that last time took several years to resolve at Woolwich council and the Ontario Municipal Board.
“It would be like starting over again,” said Kennaley.
Referring to the legal settlement from the last go-round, Huissoon noted that the operator has failed to install automated monitors – data loggers – that would provide real-time measurement of the water table.
Kennaley said the company would be required to do so if they want to proceed at the site.