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Gravel pit opponents take first punch

Fearing even worse consequences from a gravel pit in their neighbourhood, Winterbourne residents are going on the offensive. While Preston Sand and Gravel’s bid for below-the-water-table extraction at the Jigs Hollow pit is in the early stages, opponents have already started making the case for Woolwich to deny the application.

On Tuesday night, it was resident Sonya Sommerville reminding councillors the operation would obliterate prime farmland, already in short supply. Mining gravel below the water table would permanently end any hope of rehabilitating the land once all the aggregate was gone.

She noted that just 11 per cent of land in Canada is of agricultural use, with less than half a per cent of farmland in Canada deemed Class 1 prime farmland. Of that, Ontario has 52 per cent of the country’s supply, and “all of the Class 1 farmland with climatically favourable conditions.”

While farmland used for gravel extraction is supposed to be returned to agricultural use – though the industry has a spotty record on that front – in the case of below-the-water-table mining all that remains is a pit filled with water, often bereft of life.

“It’s ecologically virtually dead.”

Dan Kennaley, Woolwich’s director of engineering and planning, said the company has an application before the Ministry of Natural Resources. The township is a commenting body, and will register an objection to Preston Sand and Gravel’s bid, as is customary to buy time to prepare a formal position on the application.

The company also needs a zone change from the township to remove the holding provision restricting extraction to conventional means.

This isn’t the first legal hurdle for the Jigs Hollow pit.

Following a dispute eventually settled through an Ontario Municipal Board hearing, the township agreed to allow gravel to be mined at the 89-acre site fronting on Peel Street. Kuntz Topsoil, Sand and Gravel, later joined by Preston Sand and Gravel, was also granted the right to crush recycled concrete and asphalt at the site. Work began in 2013, mostly with berms being formed, but quickly halted when tests found groundwater levels to be much higher than anticipated, severely limiting the amount of aggregate accessible, as the licence demands mining occur no lower than 1.5 metres above the water table.

Now, the operator is seeking changes to allow extraction to resume.

Kennaley noted the process is in the very early stages. Future public meetings and a long list of studies are likely to be required before council makes a decision on the rezoning application.

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