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Deputy Environmental Commissioner to speak at Gravel Watch event

Controversial gravel pits are nothing new to Woolwich residents, who’ve mobilized in large numbers in reaction to a number of projects in recent years. With that in mind, concerned citizens are invited to a public meeting with Deputy Environmental Commissioner Ellen Schwartzel next week to become better informed on the potential environmental risks of gravel pits.

Woolwich resident Tony Dowling serves as vice-president of Gravel Watch Ontario, the provincial group that’s putting on the meeting in Aberfoyle. The group represents residents and communities who are concerned with dangers to water and air quality, losing farmland and cultural heritage, and the impacts on community, human and environmental health.

“It’s a matter of taking an evening out of your life to come out and get better informed. If you have personal or general concerns about aggregate or water issues it’s a great opportunity to come out and if not completely address them at least start to address them,” Dowling said.

Schwartzel will present tools available to alert the public to projects which may be seen as threats and/or have negative impacts; apply pressure through public disclosure and publicity of inaction by fourteen of Ontario’s ministries who have environmental responsibilities; sponsor new laws where none exist, but are needed; and investigate non-compliance with laws, regulations and policies.

Dowling notes there will be an opportunity to directly ask her questions after her presentation. He first got involved when a gravel pit in West Montrose came to life just over eight years ago. There were concerns about a pit being located that close to the West Montrose Covered Bridge and in the middle of what’s now a “cultural heritage landscape.” Gravel Watch provides resources for people to be better equipped to deal with those kinds of applications.

“We try to educate our members and the public on those issues and also how to deal with a pit if they have concerns with a pit occurring. We don’t step up and say ‘that application is wrong, it shouldn’t happen.’ We just say we don’t have the resources to do that but we can help you to determine if you should be concerned and if so, what to do about it,” Dowling said.

He notes the issue is timely considering water concerns in Elora right now. Nestle wants to install a backup plant there with the opportunity to extract water if they need more than they have in other locations. The Gravel Watch Ontario public meeting will be held just half an hour down the road in Aberfoyle, next to the Nestle water operation there.

“They’re just in the process of trying to renew their permit to take water. It’s kind of fascinating that the businesses pay, I think it’s $3.75 per million litres to take water out of the ground, it’s nothing. It might as well be free. It’s timely, it’s an opportunity if people have environmental concerns, she’s there,” Dowling said.

He expects a good turnout to the event with ten groups already signed up for display tables, and he predicts they’ll come near the 100-mark or higher in attendance.

Gravel Watch Ontario also has its eye on the Aggregate Resources Act. The province is in the process of reviewing it and they’re hoping for some positive developments in the act with the next few months.

“We hope that they’ll become better informed in matters around those issues, or issues they want to bring up themselves. I think they’ll perhaps understand better how the Ontario government system works through the Ministry of Environment and climate change and through the Environmental Commissioner’s office. Hopefully they’ll understand how they can become more and better engaged themselves to have a voice,” Dowling said.

The Ontario Gravel Watch public meeting starts at 7 p.m. on Sept. 13 at the Puslinch Community Centre in Aberfoyle. Doors open at 6 p.m.

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