Perhaps concerned by the Ford government’s “open for business” policy, Woolwich councillors pushed for stronger protections for the public in drafting a response to the province’s proposed changes to the laws regulating gravel pits.
The province is currently reviewing the Aggregate Resources Act, with an eye to reducing regulations on operators, and streamlining the application process, while still allowing for public input and environmental safeguards.
Manager of planning Jeremy Vink has been working on the township’s comments, but notes the Ministry of Natural Resources and Forestry has been short on specifics even as the November 4 deadline for submissions nears.
“It’s hard to respond without the details,” Vink told councillors meeting Tuesday night.
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Among his chief concerns are ensuring there’s a robust public review process, with requirements for strong studies and reports backing an applicant’s claims. The township is also stressing the need for controls over depth of extraction, namely below-the-water-table mining of gravel.
“Any change in an operation from an above water table extraction to a below water table extraction should require a detailed public process. … As extraction in or near the groundwater table has the potential to impact water quality, it is vital that municipalities have a key role in such decision making,” he wrote in his report to council.
While generally supportive, councillors pushed for stronger language in the written response.
Coun. Larry Shantz noted the lack of details in the provincial proposal, which leaves the door open to a loss of local control over the process.
“I thought it was pretty vague,” he said of the government’s position.
With the extraction depth issue, for instance, a full application process, with a chance for municipal and public input, should apply if an operator wants to change the license to mine below the water table.
The ministry, for its part, has routinely objected to controls on extraction depth.
“The province has been very resistant to vertical zoning,” said Vink.
Coun. Scott McMillan also called for stronger language on extraction depth.
“This language is far too vague for me.”
Shantz also pushed for a sunset clause, in essence putting a time limit on how long a company can operate a pit before closing it down. That would prevent an operator from stretching out the “active” phase to avoid rehabilitating the site, while also giving a end-date for neighbours living with a pit in the vicinity.
Coun. Fred Redekop was perhaps the most critical of the province’s plans, arguing the government was just looking to muddy the waters in favour of more extraction. Changes that would lessen municipal control, already fairly minimal, could make matters worse.
“It goes always beyond our decision. In the end, it’s out of our hands – it doesn’t seem democratic,” he said of the process.
The commenting period on the changes to the ARA runs until November 4, with public input accepted online.