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Legal battle latest twist to gravel pit

The latest twist in the years-long saga involving a gravel pit proposed for the Winterbourne valley will see the matter dragged before a provincial tribunal.

Preston Sand and Gravel earlier this month moved to have the debate brought to the Local Planning Appeal Tribunal (LPAT), a quasi-judicial body that deals with municipal planning issues. Ramping up for a fight, residents were out in force at Woolwich council Tuesday night, pressing the township to stay the course against the company’s request to mine below the water table at the site.

Though the 89-acre site at 125 Peel St. was cleared for a conventional gravel pit, the township has a holding provision on the zoning there that prevents the more invasive plan.

The legal action isn’t a first involving the location. The initial application ended up before the Ontario Municipal Board, LPAT’s predecessor. With aggregate extraction permitted in 2014, PSG’s plans quickly came to a halt 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 reverse its prohibition against digging below the water line.

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.

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.

Essentially deeming the bid a new application, Woolwich demanded a new set of studies – noise, dust, visual impacts and the like – for which peer-review consultants hired by the township raised many concerns. The township still has issues with much of the information provided by PSG, says director of engineering and planning Dan Kennaley.

And neighbours remain steadfastly opposed to the gravel pit, even more so given that digging below the water table would preclude the site ever being rehabilitated to its former state.

For Conestogo resident Gordon Haywood, the long list of issues and inconsistencies that remain are enough to disqualify PSG’s bid. Addressing councillors May 28, he argued the company would have a weak case in front of the tribunal, urging Woolwich to fight the appeal.

Focussing on the noise studies provided by PSG, for instance, Jan Huissoon, a mechanical engineering professor at the University of Waterloo, pointed out a raft of flaws in the modelling used to predict the impact on surrounding residential areas.

“One of the major issues regarding this pit is noise,” he said, noting the company excluded critical monitoring data in predicting the impact the pit would have, relying on computer modelling with inconsistent and incomplete data.

“You put these inconsistencies together and you discover the model doesn’t really make sense,” Huissoon charged.

For example, the model didn’t include loaded trucks labouring up the haul road, a source of noise that alone would surpass the noise levels set by the province.

He maintained the pit would meet neither the Ministry of the Environment guidelines or the township’s requirement that the operation have no unacceptable impacts on residents.

“There’s no way to escape this kind of industrial noise – you can’t walk around in your backyard, you open a window in your house and you hear it inside. It’s pervasive from 7 a.m. to 7 p.m. And with so many nearby residences around this pit, the conclusion should be straightforward: it’s simply the wrong place for a pit.”

Discussing the pit’s impact on the area’s cultural heritage landscape, Winterbourne resident Laurie Breed noted PSG’s own studies showed there would be negative impacts, some of them irreversible even after the pit is decommissioned, on the 14 heritage landscapes they identified in proximity to the site.

“They’ve kinda done my job for me here,” said Breed of the damning evidence in the company’s submitted reports.

“It means … this area has value to the township. It also means that the criteria set out in the township’s official plan of no negative impacts cannot be met if the holding provision is removed,” she said.

Kennaley said LPAT has scheduled a prehearing conference for July 11 where parties and participants to the legal action will be spelled out, along with witnesses likely to be called by those taking part.

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