It’s a big change, and nearby residents aren’t having any part of it. And they’re hoping Woolwich councillors feel the same way about a bid to permanently alter the Winterbourne Valley in pursuit of gravel.
Residents of Winterbourne and Conestogo turned out in droves at township council chambers Tuesday night to counter a presentation by Preston Sand and Gravel (PSG), which wants a zoning change to allow below-the-water-table extraction of aggregate at a farm on Peel Street.
A legal battle having already cleared the way for a conventional pit at the Jigs Hollow site, PSG was stymied when work got underway in 2014 and the water table was too high to permit it to continue – all extraction has to be no deeper than 1.5 metres above the water table, and levels were almost at the surface. Since then, the company has been jockeying for a request for the township to lift a holding provision on the 89-acre site.
PSG also has an application before the Ministry of Natural Resources and Forestry under the provincial Aggregate Resources Act.
In addition to allowing the company to dig into the water table, the request calls for the total amount of aggregate to be mined to reach 2.1 million metric tonnes, up from 800,000 in the current agreement. Extraction would remain at 150,000 tonnes per year, said David Sisco, a planner with IBI Group representing the applicant.
The operational timeline would extend to 14-plus years rather than the six or seven years in the existing forecast. And instead of rehabilitating the site back to farmland, a large pond would remain in the middle of the valley, filled in with groundwater to depths of 6.5 to 14 metres.
Residents took issue with all of the proposed changes, from the extra years of operation to the permanent loss of prime agricultural land.
“Many times the study refers to the “rehabilitation” of the aggregate extraction area into a small lake. However, in order for something to be rehabilitated into a small lake, there must be a lake there already, which is not the case. To rehabilitate literally means to return something to its original state. If this holding provision is lifted, land that has been farmed for over 100 years will not be ‘rehabilitated.’ It will be lost forever,” argued Winterbourne resident Laurie Breed.
Resident after resident pointed out incompatibilities between the project and the nearby homes in Conestogo and Winterbourne, arguing the topography guarantees noise and dust, for instance, will travel upwards from the bottom of the bowl-like setting. Likewise, the homes sit at a higher elevation, meaning views will be marred by the operation, regardless of the berms and tree plantings in place since 2014.
Pointing to a litany of problems and the applicant’s failure to comply with the existing agreement on numerous instances despite limited activity at the site, Conestogo resident Della Stroobosscher noted homeowners are already seeing a drop in property values, with assessment levels officially dropping.
“Visual impacts. Noise. Traffic. Non-compliance. All this on top of prime Ontario farmland being replaced with a lake, located mere metres from the Grand River, posing a threat to the fish habitat and the drinking water of thousands of people, forever. I’m asking council to say ‘no’ to lifting the holding provision,” she said.
The meeting was for information purposes, so councillors weren’t making any decisions Tuesday night. Instead, a staff report will come back at a later date.
Dan Kennaley, Woolwich’s director of engineering and planning, noted both the Region of Waterloo and the Grand River Conservation Authority had concerns about the plans submitted by PSG. The township, too, has concerns as it reviews the studies – from acoustic to cultural heritage impacts – submitted by the company’s consultants.