The Winterbourne valley will be mined for gravel, the township having dropped further legal action and agreeing to a deal with Preston Sand and Gravel.
Woolwich had placed a formal hold on the land at 125 Peel Street to prevent extraction below the water table, but that provision was lifted under a settlement reached at the Local Planning Appeal Tribunal (LPAT), the details of which were released last week.
A 2012 legal battle having already cleared the way for a conventional pit at the Jigs Hollow site, Preston Sand and Gravel (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.
Residents of Conestogo and Winterbourne have been fighting against the gravel pit since the start, stepping up efforts following the 2017 application to dig below the water table, thus preventing the land from ever being rehabilitated. A group of five residents – Della Stroobosscher, Bill Norrish, John Milloy, Jan Huissoon, and Isabel Price – applied to be parties to the latest LPAT hearings, hiring a lawyer to present their case.
Presiding LPAT member Hugh S. Wilkins found PSG had satisfied all the requirements for its requested zone change, paving the way for Woolwich to drop its opposition and to forego any further legal action.
Resident Della Stroobosscher said LPAT’s decision was almost a foregone conclusion given that the township had simply used a holding provision pending further review – the province has countered municipal attempts to impose permanent “vertical zoning” that would allow for local control over below-the-water-table extraction.
“In the end, it was a holding provision – that was what this was all about,” she said, noting the lifting of the provision was likely inevitable. “They were just looking for a reason to get it lifted.
The real problem extends back to Woolwich council’s failure to block the original application for a gravel pit in the Winterbourne valley, she added.
“We’ve always maintained that it was a very bad idea to put a gravel pit there.”
At the end of the day, the citizens tried, but those with deeper pockets and the ability to sway experts won out, said Stroobosscher.
“It was worth doing, but unfortunately the outcome was not great,” said fellow resident Jan Huisson, noting the group didn’t sign off on the settlement, but didn’t fight it either.
“I think it’s a done deal. There’s not a lot we can do at this point.”
Now, the surrounding residents will have to wait to see what happens when the site becomes a gravel pit, relying on the Ministry of Natural Resources and, to a lesser extent, the township to enforce the rules governing issues such as noise and dust levels.
The ministry’s track record is not good on that front, said Stroobosscher.
“We’re in a holding pattern now, just waiting to see what happens.”
In addition to allowing the company to dig into the water table, the plan is for the total amount of aggregate to be mined to reach 2.1 million metric tonnes, up from 800,000 in the original 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.