Left with more questions than answers, Woolwich councillors this week put off a decision on an application to mine gravel on a site near Maryhill.
There’ll be no decision on Capital Paving’s bid until at least August 10.
Having listened for six hours to a string of public comments during a special session Tuesday night, councillors appeared unswayed by planning staff’s assertion the company had satisfied all requirements for its plan to be approved.
Capital Paving wants to develop an extraction operation on a 230-acre site centered on 1195 Foerster Rd., south of Maryhill.
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.
Following a presentation by the applicant, residents and other opponents set about meticulously challenging the reports filed by Capital Paving, making cases on a number of fronts that the proposal was bad planning, threatened the local environment and reduced the quality of life for those living and working in the area. In the latter category, organizations such as the Merry-Hill Golf Club, St. John’s-Kilmarnock School and Schaman Clinic outlined the potential negative impacts of the development, including issues unaddressed by Capital’s studies submitted to the township.
“It’s not enough to say the risks are acceptable, not significant or minimal – the health and safety of children demands a higher standard,” said SJK head Cheryl Boughton, who argued the studies carried out by the applicant were sub-optimum, including failing to look at the impact of the likes of dust and other pollutants on children.
“A gravel pit at the proposed site is incompatible with our school location. SJK will suffer from multiple adverse effects, including reduced air quality, noise pollution and increased risk of traffic accidents. It will have a significant impact on our school.”
Likewise, Brandon Peister of the Merry-Hill Golf Club said he remains unsatisfied with Capital Paving’s answers, noting the golf course was ignored in many of the studies submitted to the township.
The application was dissected by speaker after speaking taking part in the videoconference meeting.
Coun. Patrick Merlihan called the presentation informative, noting he’d learned far more than what was presented in reports to council, a situation that left him with questions that need to be answered before any decision can be made.
“This application is far from complete,” he said.
Councillors raised concerns about the prospect the company will opt for a below-the-water-table licence if groundwater levels prove too high or the opportunity exists to extend the life of the pit, with Mayor Sandy Shantz noting the township is a little “gun shy” after a similar shift at a pit initially approved for regular extraction in the Winterbourne valley.
Citing presentations outlining skepticism about Capital’s hydrogeological studies, Coun. Scott McMillan said approving the application as is means the township would have no further control over any changes to the scope or type of operation at the site. The province would be making all the decisions.
“If the water is that close to the surface, we’re going to be right back where we were in Winterbourne,” he said.
Manager of planning Jeremy Vink acknowledged that the township would have no recourse if the operator wanted to go below the water table to mine aggregate, noting Capital said it has no such plans. Furthermore, changes to provincial regulations mean municipalities can no longer mandate vertical zoning (depth) or sunset clauses for gravel pits.
Despite those regulatory changes, councillors noted Premier Doug Ford last year indicated that gravel pits could be rejected if unwanted by the community, though that’s not a policy.
Speaking about an application for a site near Milton, Ford said “I am not in favour of (the Campbellville quarry). I believe in governing for the people. And when the people don’t want something you don’t do it. It’s very simple. I know the Mayor doesn’t want it, no one wants it. I don’t want it. We are going to make sure it doesn’t happen one way or another.”
In deferring a decision, councillors both asked for more information and allowed time to contact Ford directly about his statement and whether that would apply in Woolwich. Shantz encouraged residents to write to Ford as well.
A special council session is planned for August 10 to address the Capital Paving application.