Woolwich is preparing its two cents as the province looks to overhaul the Aggregate Resources Act (ARA). The township plans to submit comments during a public consultation period runs until November 4.
Based on previous input, the province has identified priorities for a new ARA, with initial suggestions in keeping with the Ford government’s “open for business” and cutting red tape stances.
“Changes are proposed to the Aggregate Resources Act to reduce burdens for business while maintaining strong protection for the environment and managing impacts to communities,” the Ministry of Natural Resources and Forestry (MNRF) offers as the summary of the review.
The announced changes follow in the footsteps of Bill 108, which proposed sweeping changes to government oversight and public input, particularly at the municipal level.
The big-picture issue for Woolwich will be determining what role the municipality and the public have in the revised process that comes out of any changes to the ARA, said planning manager Jeremy Vink.
“We don’t want to lose the opportunity to be at the table.”
Gravel pits have been a contentious issue in the township. For many years, Woolwich and other municipalities have often had local decisions that protect citizens and the environment overturned by legal challenges to the quasi-judicial Ontario Municipal Board or by the MNRF directly. The previous provincial government, however, made changes, including replacing the OMB with the Local Planning Appeal Tribunal (LPAT), that gave municipalities more say over gravel pit applications.
If the ARA review follows in the steps of Bill 108, those local controls would be rolled back in favour of greater weight on the part of industry and ministry.
Kitchener-Conestoga MPP Mike Harris says the government’s goal is to streamline the process.
“The ARA hasn’t been touched for a while,” he said. “We’re looking at ways we can modernize this for the future.”
Municipalities such as Woolwich need gravel for infrastructure repairs and expansion, so the supply needs to meet such demands, he noted.
“To keep up with growth … we need to have good aggregate.”
But any changes to the act would have to balance those needs and the desires of the industry with environmental concerns.
“We want something that’s fair to the industry and the operators, but also fair to the residents.”
While recognizing people object to gravel pits in their backyards, Harris said it’s important to use local resources for projects rather than trucking gravel from hundreds of kilometres away.
“We need to make sure the aggregate – or even any of the materials, really – are coming from as close to the source as possible.”
He added he encourages the public to submit their comments to the review process, which runs through November 4.
In its comments to the province, Woolwich will be looking for clarity in any rule changes in order to avoid the kind of situations found today, said Vink.
For instance, with an issue such a vertical zoning – an issue placing controls on so-called below-the-water-table mining of gravel – Woolwich as been repeatedly stymied by the ministry.
“The province has not liked it,” he said of the issue. “They could … clean up the language in the act to provide less ambiguity.”
The province seems to be suggesting it would give that power to the ministry rather than municipalities.
Also up in the air is the status of any in-progress applications that might still be in the planning stage when any new rules are put in place.
The recently announced Maryhill pit, for instance, could be subject to the new guidelines rather that more stringent rules currently in place.
“It’s all a bit of a question,” said Vink, noting there’s no one-size-fits-all strategy when it comes to municipalities and gravel pits.
He expects to bring a report to council, perhaps as early as next week, so that the township can finalize a response to be submitted to the provincial review of the act.