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Opponents voice concerns about aggregate pit in Guelph-Eramosa

by Jaime Myslik

BRUCEDALE - Opponents to the proposed “Spencer pit” brought their concerns to Guelph-Eramosa council on March 6.

During the public meeting three members of the public voiced objections to the proposed Tri City Lands Ltd. aggregate pit on Wellington Road 124 on the southwest side of Guelph-Eramosa Township.  

Although council approved the original rezoning application in May, an outstanding appeal by homeowners to the Ontario Municipal Board (OMB) meant it was never rezoned.

In August council passed a new comprehensive zoning bylaw, meaning that Tri City had to reapply for rezoning approval.  

“This is essentially the same application that council considered last year,” said township planning consultant Neal DeRuyter of MHBC planning.

“The applicant has also submitted a (Wellington) County official plan amendment,” which was not a requirement in the previous application.

DeRuyter explained the purpose of the official plan amendment is “to permit the pit but also to show it as a mineral aggregate area on the schedule of the county’s official plan.”

The proposed pit location is in the southwest corner of the municipality on Wellington Road 124, north of an existing rail line. The entrance will be off of Wellington Road 124, directly opposite Kossuth Road.

The rezoning amendment application requested that 51 hectares (127 acres) of land currently zoned agricultural be rezoned to extractive industrial (M3), allowing for above-the-water-table extraction of up to 650,000 tonnes of aggregate annually for five to 10 years.

“There are no special policies or provisions that are applicable,” DeRuyter said. “The application that’s been submitted meets all the provisions such as minimum setbacks and other provisions within the M3 zone.”

However, township resident Michael March said prime agricultural land should be protected. He argued the site’s soil needs to be preserved because it is a non-renewable resource. The soils have been present for thousands of years, he said, and are naturally well drained and have low compaction.

“My concern is that the same soil structure will not be present after recreating the soil because this process constitutes driving heavy machinery while rehabilitating, which causes significant compaction,” he explained.

Based on a recent study of aggregate site rehabilitation in southern Ontario and an evaluation of the rehabilitation process from 1992 to 2011, Michael said rehab is one of the most serious concerns for aggregate developments.

“Despite the applicant’s proposed rehabilitation plan, results from the 2013 study indicate that there’s a very low probability that 51 hectares of prime agricultural land in question will be rehabilitated back to its previous state,” he said.

“The study shows that progressive rehabilitation efforts are falling short in Ontario as well as locally.”

The provincial policy statement from 2014 states that prime agricultural areas will be protected for future farming.

“We’re proposing that it is in the greater long-term public interest for this land to be used as agricultural land and for agricultural purposes for the production of crops and/or pasture for farm animals such as cattle,” Michael said.  

He added the Wellington County Official Plan states “land use activities that support agriculture be encouraged and land-use activities which do not support agriculture will be discouraged.”

He said the potential dust from the proposed pit could have a large impact on air quality, impacting resident health, and on agriculture, impacting crops and soil.

Michael asked council to “carefully consider the negative agriculture and environmental impacts ... before approving the applications.”

Township resident Stephanie de Grandis asked whether an agricultural impact assessment was submitted.

“The applicant did not provide an agricultural impact assessment nor was one required through the township or the county,” DeRuyter said.

He explained the application has been circulated to commenting agencies and most have no concerns.

However, he said Wellington County identified three new matters not raised last year, including:

- protecting the bat habitat at the woodlot on site by placing a hold on that area until the habitat issue is resolved with the township;

- placing a vertical zoning on the site to ensure extraction stays above the water table; and

- maintaining water drainage and culverts on Wellington Road 124.

In response DeRuyter said the Ministry of Natural Resources and Forestry is satisfied that Tri City’s plan will protect the bat habitat.

DeRuyter added the applicant is aware a roads agreement is required as part of an entrance permit at Wellington Road 124 and Kossuth Road.

Guelph-Eramosa resident Marie March raised concerns about the recent changes to the MPAC (Municipal Property Assessment Corporation) valuation of pits.

Under the old assessment most county pits were assessed at a value of $40,000 to $50,000 per acre. However, under the new methodology, active areas of aggregate operations will likely be valued at less than $10,000 per acre.

“The reduction in the property taxes paid by the gravel pits resulting from reduced gravel pit valuations ... (means) taxes paid by other property tax classes in the county ... are going to go up,” Marie said.

“The county and the township have still got a job to do for the public, so the money has to come from somewhere, and it’s going to come from the other taxpayers.”

She also noted the provincial policy statement stipulates that extraction should only be permitted when social, economic and environmental impacts are minimized.

Economic burden

“The approval of a new gravel pit in this county would pose additional economic burdens on the resident taxpayers, the township and the county,” Marie said.

“The MPAC ruling on legacy pits has already imposed what could be considered a severe financial burden on the municipality’s fiscal wellbeing ... approval of the Spencer Pit application would just add to the financial burden.”

In addition to the increased tax burden due to MPAC changes, Marie also talked about the loss of property value in areas around the proposed pit.

The township and the county will take all public input into consideration when preparing a follow-up report for the rezoning and official plan amendment applications.

“The zoning bylaw will not come into effect until a decision is made on the county official plan,” DeRuyter said.

“So township council can still proceed with making a decision, but officially the zoning won’t come into effect until the implementing official plan amendment decision is made by the county.”

 

March 17, 2017

 
 

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