Council approves contingency deal for Inverhaugh gravel pits

The Ontario Municipal Board hearing ex­pected to last for five weeks was adjourned until Feb. 26 so residents opposing gravel pits near Inverhaugh can study an agreement worked out between Centre Wellington council and The Murray Group.
That company wants permission to operate two gravel pits near the hamlet, and residents have been opposed to that plan since it was an­nounced several years ago.
The Pilkington East Rate­payers Association received copies of the agreement at the meeting on Feb. 12, and was given the time to consider it before the hearing resumes.
PERA spokesman Ann Iron­side said on Sunday her group was not included in the negotiations between council and the Murray Group, and that was why they had attempted to speak as a delegation on Feb. 11. When council refused, several residents hurled verbal abuse at council.
Ironside said PERA was “blindsided and shut out” by council, and now the Murray Group is doing more tests at the sites that should have been done a long time ago. She also suggested the township should have supported the residents against the Murray Group.
“Had the township stayed with us, we could have won,” she said.
Township CAO Michael Wood said in an interview he does not see the situation that way, and PERA still could win at the OMB. The application is unique because the pit is so close to the hamlet that there is no precedent for approving it in the face of so much opposition.
“I honestly don’t know if it will hurt their case,” he said of the township’s agreement.
Wood added, though, that the township had its own obligations to prepare a case to present at the OMB. He said the township’s consultants and solicitors considered the Ag­gregate Act and official plan policies (the lands are designated for gravel extraction) and “They’ve led our team to believe it’s a difficult argument to win.”
Ironside said the township had completed the deal the week prior to the council meeting, and her group learned about it on Thursday or Friday, but the township’s procedural bylaw states delegations must register the Wednesday prior to a meeting.
Mayor Joanne Ross-Zuj said in an interview the details of the agreement had not been completed, and because the issue was a legal matter, council could not comment.
She said council had never met directly with the Murray Group, and all the negotiations were done through township solicitor Cavan Acheson. The final agreement was not concluded until after the council meeting was over, and Ross-Zuj said she learned that when she returned home from that meeting.
Ironside was bitter that her group was shut out of the talks, but Ross-Zuj said council is not permitted to include anyone in legal talks except the two sides that are negotiating.
She added the township asked for about 50 changes to the Murray Group’s proposal, including the location of the crusher, dust, noise, and traffic control, as well as vegetation plantings. The Murray Group accepted the agreement formally at the OMB when the hearing started.
That means the township will have concessions to the Murray Group’s proposal. PERA opposed the pit in its entirety and refused to negotiate any concessions.
Ironside said the township was taken to the OMB by the Murray Group, and that means the residents likely cannot stop the pit.
“The OMB will say, ‘work together.’ Whatever you say, I don’t think we can win,” because of the latest agreement, Ironside said.
Ross-Zuj said council simply is protecting the rate­payers with the agreement and wrestling concessions from the Murray Group. Council costs to the end of 2007 on the issue are $75,000.
If the Murray Group won the hearing without the agreement council managed to get, it would be more difficult, if not impossible, to get concessions from the company.
Ironside concluded, “What­ever we can win is concessions.”