Residents lose 7-6 as county approves Aikensville gravel pit

The issue is likely going to be decided by the Ontario Municipal Board, but a number of Puslinch Town­ship residents left county council chambers disappointed Nov. 29.
They were hoping county council would reject an official plan amendment, which would oppose a gravel pit.
The land is part of Lot 13, 14, and 15, Concession 3 in Puslinch Township. It is in the norwest part of the township, north of County Road 34, and immediately west of County road 35.
Capital Paving wants to extract about 1.5 million tonnes of gravel from the pit over seven years.
The county planning report noted that in order to operate, over 60 acres of land needed to be designated as being within the mineral aggregate area.
The company will also require a licence from the Ministry of Natural Resources and appro­priate township zoning.
Puslinch Township had al­ready approved the pit at the local level, and the Grand River Conservation Authority stated it had no major concerns with the application.
Residents living in the area, though, opposed the applica­tion. Lawyer Rodney Northey and Dr. Andrea Bradford ap­peared on behalf of the Cran­berry Area Ratepayers and Resi­dents Association to op­pose the application.
Northey said the site of the pit has “unacceptable social and environmental concerns.”
Consultant Bradford said there are questions on how much gravel is available and the effects on the local water table.
She said Capital’s pro­posal of digging in some cases within a metre of the water table was unacceptable.
She said the northeast part of the site would suffer “quite severe impacts,” if the appli­cation is approved.
She said Capital’s hydro­geological report focused on justifying the application and not on the impacts of a shallow flow that would occur once the gravel is extracted.
Northey also noted that if council amends the official plan, what is to stop it from do­ing that to the rest of the property, which has provin­cially significant wetlands. He predicted that extraction could continue until all the gravel is exhausted.
Bradford, who did her Ph. D in groundwater studies, said “I don’t share the opinion that this proposal won’t have an impact on wetlands.”
She also noted that there will be major dust concerns, and concentrations could be high enough to cause illness and death, and there is “no safe level.”
When the delegation receiv­ed questions, councillor Brad Whitcombe, whose council ap­proved the pit, asked, “Is there no hope for mediation? Is it all or nothing?”
Northey replied that he has encouraged that, but that Capi­tal did engage in mediation in another case and then “changed all the terms … there is not a strong past” of Capital working with residents.
Guelph Lawyer Peter Pick­field said the issue would be going to the OMB no matter what county council decided, because the loser at the county would continue the battle. He noted that the date for a hearing had been set the previous week at a pre-hearing.
He said he would not re­spond to Bradford’s statements, but added those would be cross-examined at the OMB hearing. He added the pit was scheduled to operate for seven years.
He added that Capital was aware the gravel is near a provincially significant wet­land, so it hired the best people it could to prepare its case, taking that into account.
He added that the GRCA and all provincial agencies have stated the application does not have any technical con­cerns, and that when the gravel extraction is completed, the wetlands will be enhanced with a pond.
“Thirty-seven experts have walked this site,” he said, adding that the county planning department has stated it has no concerns, and that Puslinch Township officials take gravel applications seriously and have dealt with many of them, and it has approved the zone change.
He urged the county to accept the technical advice it had received.
Councillor Jean Innes asked how the wetlands will be en­hance. Pickfield said by cre­ating a pond.
Bradford said the pond is open water, and does not affect what is already there. “There’s no suggestion the wetlands will be enhanced.”
Councillor Lou Maieron not­ed Puslinch Township has been working to enhance cold water streams and said a pond would not enhance such a stream because pond water gets warm.
Pickfield said, “We’re not affecting any streams with this.”
When council considered the issue in its planning com­mittee report, committee chair­man Walter Trachsel said there had been two lengthy meetings over the issue. He said pres­entations by both sides were “professional and well done.
Trachsel, seconded by Whit­combe, moved the official plan amendment be approved.
Planner Gary Cousins told council that 77 acres would be used for gravel extraction, and seven of those would see ex­traction below the water table.
He said there are three core policies council must consider, one being the province wants gravel extracted as close to where it is needed as possible; that extraction have minimal impacts, and no impacts on provincially significant wet­lands, and the province also considers impacts on people.
He agreed there are some disputes over the noise studies that have been done by Capital’s consultants.
He noted there are a  large number of homes in the area, but none within 500 feet, and the some within 1,000. He added the site will be “reas­onably well buffered.”
Cousins also pointed out the county had opposed a pit that did not meet its criteria, and won that hearing.
He concluded, “It’s always difficult to bring in a recom­mendation when you know the neighbours are unhappy with it.”
Councillor Rod Finnie opposed the application, noting that he has pits in his area, and concerns about noise and dust “are not imaginary issues.”
He argued council should be considering the issue from a planning point of view rather than an aggregate point of view.
He also pointed out that if Capital takes its maximum amount of gravel each year, the pit will empty in four years, and why does it want such a small amount of gravel.
Councillor Mike Broom­head, whose municipality also has dealt with contentious pit issues, agreed with Finnie.
“Ponds still have to be mon­itored,” he said. “It certainly isn’t addressed here.”
Broomhead said the county can’t just plan for today, but must look years down the road.
Innes expressed concern with the entire process. She charged that three or four years ago, Capital went looking for a new site, and then designed the reports justifying it to meet government requirements.
“This [wetlands] is a busy en­vironment. What’ we’re look­ing at is devastation.”
But councillor Gord Tosh wondered if council rejects its planning staff’s report, will the county have to hire other ex­perts to represent it at the OMB, where they would have to opposed the county’s own staff.
Warden John Green said it is his view the county should defend the decision it makes.
Councillor Carl Hall criti­ciz­ed the severances that al­lowed residential growth in the area. He said to deal with the gravel before allowing any more residential growth.
Whitcombe said his town­ship council did not come to its decision lightly, and he oppos­ed any deferral. “The easy thing would be to turn it down and let the experts make the decision,” he said, adding he is concerned about the “all or nothing approach.
“I’m hoping there is still room for some meaningful negotiation.”
When council voted, the vote was 7-6 in favour of the amendment.
Those in favour included councillors Trachsel, Bob Wilson, Whitcombe, Hall, Tosh, Chris White, and Joanne Ross-Zuj.
Those opposed were Innes, Finnie, Lynda White, Broom­head, Maieron, and Mark Mac­Kenzie.
Councillor Barb McKay declared a conflict of interest and was not in the room when the vote was taken.