Notice of motion for Puslinch fill moratorium deferred for clarification

Councillors here have deferred a notice of motion from Puslinch councillor Matthew Bulmer seeking a moratorium on fill permits until council revamps its current fill bylaw.

Bulmer’s notice of motion came up at the May 20 meeting.

The first reading of the motion noted the township has a site alteration bylaw, dealing with the placement of fill while mitigating impacts to the natural environment, impacts to local residents and liabilities to the township.

The bylaw also distinguishes between projects of less than or greater than 1,000 cubic metres.

The motion also noted projects over 1,000 cubic metres have a greater potential to negatively impact the environment, residents’ quality of life and to be divided among regulatory boundaries such as the township and conservation areas.

Conservation authorities do not necessarily have similar fill bylaws in place.

Currently Puslinch’s fill bylaw has no upper limit to the amount of material which could be accepted and the application fees may not be sufficient to cover costs.

Bulmer noted that since the current bylaw has been slated for review and improvements in the near future, and new best management practices were put in place after the old bylaw was adopted.

He asked the township temporarily cease accepting fill applications for new site alteration projects of over 1,000 cubic metres to provide staff and council time to establish memorandums of understanding with local conservation authorities with jurisdictions within Puslinch.

Councillor Ken Roth was in favour of the idea “… but is it open ended until every thing is dealt with.”

Mayor Dennis Lever said the current draft of the motion simply stated that fill applications would be suspended … without a time limit.

Roth said “so if it takes us 20 years to negotiate with the conservation authority … we wouldn’t accept any fill for projects over 1,000 cubic metres.”

Lever stated that with the current wording “I would expect that to be the case.”

He clarified that the motion could be amended.

Council Wayne Stokley also agreed with the intent, but believed the motion should also reference normal farm practices and what is considered a normal farm activities versus a commercial enterprise.

“It may be something coming down the pipe with some of these large applications,” he suggested.

Councillor Susan Fielding supported the item, though she said if provincial legislation on the fill issue does come – council would have to abide by that.

She said it seemed like a big undertaking to consult with the three conservation areas connected to the Puslinch area.

Fielding asked if it was actually workable to have a negotiated settlement. In that, she agreed with Roth in that it could take 20 years.

Lever said any review of the existing bylaw would require all of those involve in its creation – from staff to consulting to legal.

“It’s not going to be inexpensive. There will be a fair amount of work and research … and get our bylaw to the top.”

Bulmer said the alternative of leaving it open could leave the township facing an even larger application than the one recently turned down.

He said he was honestly uncertain when the bylaw was first drafted, that anyone had anticipated an application which would result in 10m of fill being spread over a property.

“I’d like to give staff the opportunity to put the pause button on some of the larger projects – while allowing the smaller or modest ones to carry on.”

He added if a decision is rendered on normal farm practices, it would override the township bylaw.

“I just don’t want to get ourselves into a position where we find ourselves dealing with an even larger application.”

Mayor Lever explained when the first bylaw was drafted it had been facing a pending application for 500,000 cubic metres “… which is why a lot of work went into this bylaw at the time.”

He suggested an amendment to cease accepting permits for two-years and send the item back to staff to get an idea how long it might take to deal with this.

CAO Karen Landry suggested council defer this back to staff to work on the wording.

Fielding wondered if staff could speak with the province to determine whether there was any pending legislation.

“I’d hate to see us getting six months into this and spending a lot of money for naught.”

Lever noted something similar happened to Wellington County on regulating wind turbines.

“They were just getting to the end of their process … and down came the Green Energy Act … and it all went out the window.”

The item is due back for discussion at council on June 17.