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Woolwich plans to stay the course at Jigs Hollow; residents concerned

Winterbourne residents concerned about the chance of worsening impacts from a gravel pit in their backyards want Woolwich council’s assurance it will stand with the community.
At issue is the possibility the operator of the Jigs Hollow pit will seek clearance for below-water-table extraction at the site. Work started there last fall, but then quickly stopped when higher-than-expected groundwater levels were found, severely reducing the amount of accessible aggregate material.
Opponents had identified that as a likelihood during the protracted debates over the application from Kuntz Topsoil, Sand and Gravel, a dispute eventually settled through the Ontario Municipal Board process.
As councillors met November 18, resident Della Stroobosscher called on the township to reaffirm its commitment to a holding provision on the site’s zoning that prevents the operator from removing gravel from below the water table.
That provision is the key to providing control over site and its eventual rehabilitation, she said, adding that below-water-table extraction would mean no restoration, the permanent loss of prime farmland and the creation instead of a “lifeless pond.”
“We have to preserve this very precious resource in our township that’s at risk of being lost.”
Supportive, Mayor Todd Cowan questioned whether a motion of support for the holding provision was necessary.
“I don’t think that we’re wavering at all,” he said.
Director of engineering and planning Dan Kennaley agreed the move was unnecessary, and might even pose a danger by “fettering” council in advance of any new application to change the zoning on the property.
Kennaley noted a change to the extraction provision would require a zoning bylaw amendment, with council and the OMB the only organizations with the authority to make that decision.
Under the agreement – minutes of settlement – hashed out at the OMB, the owner has the right to request the removal of the holding provision. Such a move would set another review process in motion. While a public meeting would not be mandated under the circumstances, the township would insist on one, he added.
The process could take years. The Grand River Conservation Authority needs a minimum of two years of hydrogeological data to begin assessing such an application, so the review would take that much time at the very least, Kennaley explained.
The township has had some indication from Preston Sand and Gravel, which has become a partner in the operation, that the company is exploring options at the 89-acre site. Thus far, a haul road was created and some berms ploughed into place, but work soon halted when the higher groundwater levels were discovered. Initial estimates of some 850,000 tonnes of recoverable gravel were based on a 2011 measurement of the water table. 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.

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