Big Lake generates big debate

The province’s rejection of a funding application sparked another heated debate on the “Big Lake” proposal in Pus­linch Township last week.

In October, the township submitted a $385,000 application under Ontario’s Rural Eco­nomic De­velopment (RED) program for plans to transform several gravel pits into a large lake measuring 700 acres – or twice the size of Puslinch Lake.

If successful, the township would have received 50% of that amount – about $193,000 – but the municipality received word on Jan. 4 the application was denied.

Mayor Brad Whitcombe told council the township is still awaiting the result of its other grant application for the project – a $400,000 proposal that could provide Puslinch with $200,000 in funding through  the Green Muni­cipal Fund (GMF) offered by the Fed­eration of Canadian Muni­cipalities.

But councillor Dick Visser once again objected to the use of taxpayers’ dollars, whether federal or provincial, for the plan, which would transform a series of nine small ponds into one large lake and two smaller lakes on 1,200 acres long Concession 2, south of High­way 401.

Visser insists the aggregate industry, which he said has “done enough damage” in Puslinch, should cover the entire bill.

“All they’ve come up with is $20,000,” he said, referring to $10,000 provided by CBM and Lafarge Canada. Other than those two companies, all the gravel industry has provided is “verbal support” and  that is not acceptable, he added.

Councillor Don McKay disagreed and said the Big Lake proposal seems like a good concept.

“We could sit on our hands and do nothing to help this community or take some initiative and investigate the possibility,” said McKay.

“I think we should try to go forward … and build a better community.”

While not opposed to the concept, councillor Susan Field­ing agreed tax dollars should not be used for any projects involving pit rehabilitation, which she said is the sole responsibility of the aggregate industry.

Whitcombe cautioned coun­cil about criticizing or insulting gravel companies – the township’s potential partners on the project – before it is even decided if the proposal will proceed.

He said the easiest thing for the companies to do post-extraction would be to sell the land to a private party, but the industry has “stuck their necks out” and supported the lake idea.

“Please keep in mind this is something that’s never been done before,” the mayor told council. “The idea is everyone gives something … [and] with some imagination, good will and partnerships the public will benefit from the process.”

Visser then voiced concerns about what he perceives as a lack of council input on the matter, and said the lake proposal should have gone to a pub­lic meeting about nine months ago.

“I’m looking out for the interests of taxpayers,” said Visser. “The public is in the dark on this thing, and they’re not supposed to be.”

Whitcombe replied there has been no public meeting because there’s nothing to discuss. The proposal is still in the very early stages, he said, and the township has to have funding in place before it can proceed with any planning.

“It’s quite easy to throw stones at this idea, as opposed to trying to make it work,” Whitcombe said.

“If we’re go­ing to use it as some kind of political football, that’s fine. I can take it; I have thick skin.”

He again stressed everyone involved – including the Uni­versity of Guelph, CBM, Lafarge Canada, Dufferin Ag­gregates, and the Grand River Conservation?Authority – are committed to the idea.

He also pointed out there have been no private meetings, as Visser suggested, and said he only asked a couple of questions in the beginning to get the discussion started.

“There’s no sinister plot,” said Whitcombe, adding at the end of the day, council will be able to vote on whether or not to proceed with the plan.