A group of residents opposed to a gravel pit proposed for a site near Maryhill is calling for Woolwich and the region to ignore comments from the Grand River Conservation Authority, citing the potential for a conflict of interest.
In a letter to both municipal governments, the Hopewell Creek Residents Association (HCRA) points to representatives of the gravel-mining industry sitting on the Grand River Conservation Foundation as a conflict that should nullify comments from the GRCA stating the agency has no issues with the project.
For its part, the GRCA says the foundation is a separate entity with no impact on the agency’s operations, including commenting on planning issues.
The residents association’s letter is the latest salvo in Capital Paving’s bid to develop an extraction operation on a 230-acre site centered on 1195 Foerster Rd., south of the village.
The Guelph-based company has applied to Woolwich for the zoning and official plan amendments needed to mine what is currently farmland. Capital Paving is leasing the site, proposing to extract gravel in five phases, with the owner continuing to farm the land before and after each phase. The plan is to rehabilitate the entire site back to prime farmland when the project is completed. The firm estimates the site contains three million tonnes of aggregate materials. While the pit application looks to extract 500,000 tonnes per year, Capital predicts it would remove about half that much annually, meaning the pit would be in operation for 12 to 15 years.
In the application process, the GRCA is a commenting agency, with no decision-making authority. Last month, it indicated issues raised with the applicant since last summer had been resolved, with the GRCA no longer having any concerns about the proposed gravel pit.
The residents association argues, however, that many concerns remain, including issues that should trouble the GRCA in light of red flags raised by third-party reviews of documents submitted by Capital Paving.
“The issues raised in the peer review strike the HCRA as precisely the issues that should continue to be of concern to the GRCA,” said association members Bonnie Bryant and Susan Campbell in the letter sent to the region and township.
Suspicions were raised when the residents discovered representatives of the gravel industry sit on the Grand River Conservation Foundation, which is a fundraising charity for GRCA projects and programs.
“[W]e are very concerned about the fact that three of the directors of the GRCA foundation are representatives of the aggregate industry. It is troubling that while Capital Paving has an aggregate application before the region and the township, a senior executive of the company is on the board of the GRCA foundation,” Bryant and Campbell wrote. “There is, at the very least, a perceived conflict of interest when a commenting agency with the responsibility to comment on an aggregate application has several representatives of the aggregate industry on the board of directors of its fundraising arm.”
But GRCA spokesperson Cam Linwood countered there is no overlap between the groups, and thus no conflict.
“From a governance perspective, the Grand River Conservation Foundation (GRCF) and Grand River Conservation Authority (GRCA) are two separate legal entities with two separate boards and two separate bylaws that include conflict of interest provisions,” he said in an email.
“The members of the GRCF board are not involved in the GRCA’s review of planning applications or other GRCA operational matters and were not involved in this application.”
In an interview, Bryant said she remains to be convinced there’s no conflict of interest.
“It’s still part of the GRCA. The mere appearance of gravel companies sitting on the foundation gives the perception there is a conflict,” she said of the foundation.
That issue aside, residents still have many problems with the proposal, Bryant added, citing noise, dust, traffic and environmental concerns.
“There are so many things wrong with this application,” she said, calling a gravel pit incompatible with surrounding land uses. “The village is firmly opposed to this – nobody wants it.”
Having received the letter from the HCRA, the township intends to stay out of the dispute.
“We’re not going to be commenting on it,” said manager of planning Jeremy Vink of the association’s letter to the GRCA.
What the township is doing is continuing to evaluate Capital Paving’s application. Reports submitted by the applicant are being reviewed by third parties, with Woolwich seeking changes and clarification from the company as the evaluation moves along.
“We’re back and forth with peer reviews at this point,” said Vink. “We’re still going through the process.”
Given that it’s an “extensive” application, he sees the process continuing for a few more months, with a report coming back to Woolwich council in the early fall at the soonest.
“They knew this wasn’t going to go quickly,” he said of Capital Paving.