Guelph-Eramosa residents living close to the proposed site of a new gravel pit in the southwest corner of the township voiced their opposition to the operation last week.
About 30 people filled the Marden Community Centre hall on March 7 to offer comments on the Tri City Lands Ltd. pit, also known as the “Spencer Pit.”
The proposed pit would be located south of Wellington Road 124 and north of the existing rail line. The vehicle entrance will be off of Wellington Road 124, directly opposite Kossuth Road.
The rezoning amendment application requests that 51 acres of land currently zoned agricultural be rezoned to extractive industrial, allowing for above-the-water-table extraction of up to 650,000 tonnes of aggregate annually for five to 10 years.
The proposed pit operation will not extract within 1.5m of the established water table.
The company applied in March of 2014 for a zoning bylaw amendment with Guelph-Eramosa Township and an Aggregate Resources Act (ARA) licence with the Ministry of Natural Resources and Forestry (MNRF).
After public consultation, the township and Wellington County filed objections to the approval of the ARA application because rezoning had not yet been approved.
The township received a revised rezoning amendment application in January, which addressed all the concerns raised in 2014.
The March 7 public meeting was the next step in the rezoning application process with the township.
Resident Patricia Spedaler said, “What I’m trying to first of all understand is what is the value to a township if you change agricultural to extraction?”
Guelph-Eramosa Mayor Chris White explained the question couldn’t be answered at the meeting.
“The council has not received this final report,” he said. “We’re watching this process as it goes along the road …
“This is based on whatever the Planning Act says so the taxes in or out or the amount for gravel doesn’t factor into it.”
White also explained that at this time “gravel has as much play as water” and is now provincially legislated to be as close to market as possible.
“(The) Provincial Policy Statement identifies that aggregate extraction is an important provincial initiative as is agriculture,” explained Dan Currie, township planning consultant from MHBC Planning, Urban Design and Landscape Architecture.
Both Currie and White made it clear that just because one pit is approved doesn’t mean the next application will also be given the go-ahead.
“These things, it’s based on the science,” White said.
Currie added, “Each application has to be judged on the merits of that application itself and the application has to be made and then ultimately reviewed and approved by the municipality.”
One of the major concerns raised by a number of residents was a possible threat to the local water supply.
“There’s no way I’m going to be living in that property next door to a gravel pit,” said Hasan Hasan, who lives beside the proposed site.
“I don’t want to get involved in a cistern if my well supply has issues,” said Hasan, who added he doesn’t understand how the gravel pit can dig down 20 feet when the water table on his property is at eight feet.
Tri City representative Glenn Harrington, from Harrington McAvan Ltd., explained the ground water level is not consistent across the site.
“We have a full hydrogeology report which looks at all the test pits and wells that we have in the area and the ones that we’ve drilled and there’s a map of the ground water that’s provided by the hydrogeologist to say where the ground water is across the site,” Harrington said. “It’s not level, it moves with the material that is there.”
Resident Ronald Guite said he was concerned about what would happen if the operation accidently breached the water table.
“We have a monitoring program on site so there are monitoring wells designed by the hydrogeologist around the site that have continuous monitors,” Harrington explained.
“If anything unexpected happens there it happens long before it would go to anywhere else.” He also said Tri City officials will survey wells in the area surrounding the site so they have a baseline measure before the pit begins operation.
“So if there is a complaint we’ll be able to go back and see if there’s an effect on it,” Harrington said.
He added if there is a complaint about wells not functioning properly, Tri City will look at the well immediately and provide an alternate source of water until the cause of the disruption is identified.
Resident Greg Dubul said his concern is what will happen if his pump is clogged because the water quality deteriorates due to the pit operation.
Harrington specified that because of the way the water flows, most residents access water upstream from the pit so he said there is little chance of contaminated water reaching their wells.
Resident Glenn March said his concern stems from sharing an aquifer. “You’re downhill from me right? So you spring a leak, I’m losing water,” he said. Glenn also asked whether there was a possibility of leeching and contamination from the temporary processing plant proposed for the pit site. Recycled materials could include asphalt, concrete, brick, clay, glass and ceramic.
Harrington explained that based on studies there aren’t contaminants in the materials the company will recycle; however, Tri City has agreed to put in a cement pad to contain the recycling area as a result of Guelph-Eramosa’s peer review.
Michael March asked how much water the pit will use.
Harrington said he couldn’t give an exact volume because there wasn’t a hydrogeologist at the meeting. “I will tell you that the pit is set up so that the supply of water comes from a well on site,” said Harrington.
“But the water goes through the wash plant and comes back out; its only purpose is to wash the fine material off to improve the quality of the aggregate so it’s pumped through the wash plant, goes into a clarifying pond and it is pumped out and through the wash plant again.”
The planning report prepared for the public meeting stated the pit would generate a daily peak of 18 truck trips (11 inbound and seven outbound) at both the morning and afternoon peak hours.
The haul routes go along Wellington Road 124 for Guelph markets, Kossuth Road for Kitchener and Hespeler Road south to the 401 for markets east and west.
Guite said he has seen trucks lined up along the road for other pits at 3am.
“You know as well as I do how competitive truck drivers want to get into the pit to do their job,” he said. “Sometimes you won’t even be able to handle all the trucks. What are you going to do with the excess trucks that come in and park on the road?”
Harrington said, “In this particular case what we do for that is we have a nice long road inside and we get permission to open the gate early so the truck can actually pull in behind the sound barrier if it is an issue.”
Hermania Guite asked if Harrington could guarantee that tucks wouldn’t stop along the road at 3am. His answer of “No, I can’t guarantee that,” was not well received.
“Okay, so thank you very much, you’ve just depreciated the value of my home by at lease $100,000,” Hermania Guite said. “Thank you.”
Glenn March asked whether there would be any silica dust produced from the pit operation. According to the Centres for Disease Control and Prevention, fine silica dust can sometimes lead to lung cancer.
Harrington said it’s a requirement for any dust produced by the operation to stay inside the pit. “I know tons of people who work in them and we don’t see health problems that are related to the silica and part of that is silica dust that causes problems is very, very fine, whereas a gravel pit you’re dealing with sand granulars that are bigger.”
Harrington said if residents do begin to see a build up of dust on their property they should contact Tri City.
Dubul asked, “Are there stations set up, certain checkpoints that monitor the air quality?”
Harrington said, “No we’re just responsible for making sure dust doesn’t go off the site.”
The proposed pit will be progressively rehabilitated throughout the life of the operation, Harrington explained.
“We don’t strip an entire area, you strip basically what you need for the next year,” he explained. “So the company says we’ll strip that, the top soil is taken out and stockpiled, the overburden is taken and stockpiled, the extraction goes down and then they move to another area, the top soil and overburden are brought back and put in place.”
Harrington specified that it would take a minimum of two years to rehabilitate a section that has been stripped.
“Soil health is key to agricultural rehabilitation,” he said.
“It’s not just putting the top soil back, but it’s restoring the health of the soil which is the microbes that are in it, the fungus, the bacteria, in making sure that the organic matter content is up, there’s good soil health, and that all happens in a very well researched, well documented process that is designed to return it.”
Michael March asked if there would be areas where water could pool at the bottom of the rehabilitated area.
“One of the reasons why a pit field actually is a bit better than just a regular field (is) because you are able to grade it all so that it drains uniformly down to one spot and then it infiltrates,” Harrington said.
Rehabilitation is a provincial mandate, Currie noted, adding, “The policy statement says that once aggregate extraction has been completed or taken place, those lands must be returned to agriculture and so that’s part of the review process of any application is the ability and the plan to return those lands to agriculture.”
Residents are encouraged to send comments about the re-zoning application to township clerk Meaghen Reid by the middle of April to be taken into consideration for MHBC’s final planning report.
“There will be a time when we will take your input and there will be a time when we’re done and then we have to make a decision, [that’s] the way it works,” White said.
In terms of comments, White said new information is key.
“Repetition doesn’t get us very far right?” he said. “It’s got to be something new.”