Another pit? Neighbours worried about possible rezoning

ABERFOYLE – A residents’ group called the Mill Creek Stewards is worried about the prospect of another gravel pit in Puslinch.

Member John McNie relayed those concerns to  township council on July 17.

The group is worried about a potential zoning change,  from agricultural to extractive, for lots 18, 19 and 20 on Concession 2.

“Our group calls this a pre-emptive presentation,” McNie said. “Our concern’s with the property, the old Edward Lake farm.”

He said when the former owner died the 220-acre property passed on to his two sons, who sold the property in a private sale to the Brazilian aggregate firm Votorantim Cimentos CBM.

McNie stated multiple drill holes were generated in 2018 and an archeological survey conducted recently.

“Though we are aware no application has been submitted, these actions support our expectations there will be a request in the near future for … a zoning change ..,” McNie said.

He added the property is central to the largest remaining greenspace in Puslinch.

“The reason we are making this early presentation is to let the company know there is, and will continue to be, opposition from the neighbourhood.”

He said residents also believed in important the township have an opportunity to make an early position statement as well.

McNie noted areas surrounding the subject property include a “no truck traffic” road due to the style of bridge crossing a creek considered an important part of the township.

He noted Mill Creek flows along the length of the property of concern.

“We bring up Mill Creek not as a tangent,  (but) because it, and not NIMBYism, lies at the heart of our objection to what may happen if this property becomes a gravel pit … Water is the central issue.”

He stated over 1,000 acres next to Mill Creek have been exhaustively excavated with almost all of that extraction below the water table.

“These pits continue to expand north, south and east.”

McNie stated that just a decade ago, the area was considered to have been mined so extensively, the GRCA was forced to direct the gravel companies to take remedial action.

“This remedial action has provided Mill Creek with some time and given it the equivalent of life-support measures.”

While these measures have given the appearance of a healthy system, McNie said “let’s not fool ourselves; this is not a naturally healthy system.”

He said what exists now is not natural but an artificially staged implementation – something which is much more susceptible to failure.

McNie said it now appears extraction companies wish to move west, across Mill Creek, into natural environment and core greenland areas.

“We recognize the province needs gravel and that Puslinch has helped meet those demands for the past century,” he said.

“But for any community to remain healthy, responsibilities need to be balanced with rights.”

He said the township has a right to be heard by higher levels of government and to have a fair assessment of risks and benefits when properties are considered for gravel extraction.

McNie added there also needs to be reasonable expectations as to when the property would return to a form that is lifestyle or revenue enhancing to the township.

“The whole township loses because this comes with significant cumulative risk to the Mill Creek ecosystem.”

He said the township loses valuable farmland for a use that creates minimal revenue to offset increased costs. He noted some pits that were supposed to close by 2015 remain open. He also recognized it is early in the process for this potential pit.

“But this is a long overdue date for discussion on extraction in general, especially when it conflicts with township and county planners,” said McNie.

Councillor John Sepulis  said, “I don’t know what we can do at this stage considering an application has not been made.”

Councillor Ken Roth shared the concerns raised and said, “We will do what we can.”

Councillor Matthew Bulmer asked if McNie had been following changes being initiated by the province through Bill 108.

“Unfortunately, yes,” responded McNie.

He suspected an application has not yet been made for a gravel pit because those changes are not finalized.

Bulmer, who said he expects there are changes coming to the Aggregate Resources Act, stated gravel extraction is “one of the most potentially benign forms of resource extraction – if it were done right.”

Bulmer said, “My issue is that there is no enforcement and the only ones seemingly required to follow the rules are the municipalities …

“I understand where you are coming from.”

Viewing satellite maps of the area, Mayor James Seeley said, “It makes me so upset to see what the aggregate industry has done to the community [around Concession 2].

“Unfortunately we have a province which is pro-aggregate, the red tape is being cut, and it will be a difficult challenge to slow down the aggregate industry.”

Councillor Jessica Goyda declared a pecuniary interest as she has a family member who operates an aggregate business in Puslinch.