Residents oppose CBM gravel pit expansion at second public meeting

Residents voiced concerns about the St. Marys pit expansion proposal at a packed public meeting at Centre 2000 on Sept 8.

St. Marys Cement Group – Canada Building Materials (CBM) are currently applying for official plan amendments (for the town and county) and a zoning bylaw amendment to extend its property northwest of Hillsburgh in four phases.

“Aggregates are a very large part of our community. Roads, houses, buildings like this one here, are all made possible by the building material of aggregate,” said Steve May, lands manager of CBM West.

“Hillsburgh does happen to have a deposit that has a good variety and quality of material, so it can be used for concrete stone for high-stress use, for bridges and that type of use.”

May explained the first phase is a square plot in the south corner of the property where a house and barn currently stand. The second phase is a woodlot on the northeastern border. The third and fourth phases are northwest and north respectively, adding approximately 40 hectares to the existing pit.  

The public meeting was a chance for May to address issues raised by concerned residents during the previous public meeting held in March.

In terms of loss of agricultural land and rehabilitation, May said the whole property would not be open as a pit at the same time.

“In reality, the operation is only allowed to have a disturbed area of about what exists now …  in terms of the footprint of disturbed area it will not change from what is existing now, it will just be in a different area,” he said.

“The production is going to remain similar and so the noise, dust and pollutants will be unchanged from the current operation,”

May added CBM has an award-winning record in rehabilitation and invited people to view its other pits and rehabilitation processes.

However, some people were skeptical about how they could rehabilitate the land after so many years.

Resident Stewart Sebben added later in the meeting CBM’s award was from an association.

“I’m not taking any credit away from CBM, they did get recognized … but let’s be honest here, this was an award from the Ontario Sand and Gravel Association … This is an association and they voted among themselves,” Sebben said.

Wellington County planning manager Mark Van Patter explained to council the county, the Credit Valley Conservation authority (CVC) and the Ministry of Natural Resources (MNR), still have concerns about the woodlot  area from which CBM is applying to extract.

May answered the concerns by saying CBM is considering its options for this phase.

“There’s very good quality resources underneath the woodlot … but we have also found … various forms of legislation that do protect that very significant feature. We appreciate its significance and we’re considering our options,” said May.

He went on to explain CBM is seeking an increase from its current 750,000 tonnes per annum extraction to 1 million tonnes for flexibility reasons and he does not foresee using the maximum extraction regularly.

“It is not our expectation to use that million tonnes on a regular basis, it is for those exceptional jobs and at this time we are operating at significantly less than our approved 750,000 tonnes right now. So that is something we’re willing to decrease to a certain degree,” he said.

May added he does not foresee a change in property values in the area.

“In this case, this is an established operation, so without an increase in production and traffic, noise and dust, the effect on property values is not something we expect to change,” he said.

May also addressed residents’ concerns about a possible impact on water.

He said several peer-reviewed studies done for the company’s now-approved below-the-water-table extraction concluded there would not be an impact on drinking water for Hillsburgh.

Sebben was not convinced.

“We have had seasons where we have had to go in and get our wells tested and bring in water purification systems … because they were so low the bacteria levels were going higher,” he said.

Sebben said he believes that due to Nestle’s water taking rights and CBM activities, residents who live nearby may have to deal with a lack of water resulting from a lower water table.

Sebben also expressed his concern about the loss of farmland.

“It’s still going to be a hole in the ground … Ontario’s farm lands is a finite, non-renewable resource and its long-term protection is important to the government,” he said.

Sebban noted Erin council voted to support Trent Lakes’ resolution asking the province to change its policy to include demonstrated need for aggregate extraction.  

He said, “CBM currently has over 66 licensed aggregate pits and quarries in Ontario for a land mass of 3,551 hectares or 8,775 acres. Of these 66 pits, 59 are licensed to extract approximately 39 million tonnes of aggregate every year and seven locations are permitted an unlimited amount of aggregate each year.

“Fourteen of these sites are in Wellington County. How much more aggregate does CBM need? Because they are not the only company out there.

“Without proper foresight, responsible government and civil planning, we could destroy our beloved community for the future generation of Erin.”

John Mortland-Jones, another concerned resident, encouraged council to ask for peer-reviewed studies.

He suggested a peer review study for traffic impact and noise. He also suggested another environmental impact study be completed to include protected flora and fauna species, spring flower evaluation and topsoil evaluation.

Van Patter said in his presentation the county would most likely recommend more peer-reviewed studies.

“I’m probably going to recommend to this council that we peer review a number of the studies. It basically becomes assurance, a second opinion for everybody,” Van Patter said.  

Mortland-Jones also showed council a video taken by a drone that flew over the pit.

Five other residents spoke out against the proposal and more than 320 letters of concern were sent to council.

Councillors also had an opportunity to ask questions and voice concerns at the meeting.

“I don’t support the application at present” said councillor Jeff Duncan.

“I think it’s too large a single application for the extraction and second thing is … CBM, not so much directly, but through their association with the overall gravel industry have been very successful in their MPAC (Municipal Property Assessment Corporation) appeals for their tax assessments.”

Councillor John Brennan said he is not concerned about the tax assessments.

“Our argument is not with aggregate pits, our argument is with MPAC. (It’s the) same argument we have with the province on reduces taxes on farmland, on managed forests, and on protected wetlands.”

Councillor Matt Sammut said he was concerned about extraction below the water table and contamination. He also wanted to take a second look at the truck route because “trucks just kill our roads.”

Councillor Rob Smith was also worried about the possible impact on water, asking what would happen if the town put in a water tower.

Brennan also said the discussion would not be stopped at council, but would continue to the Ontario Municipal Board (OMB) if needed.

Van Patter echoed that sentiment in his presentation.

“If we can’t find common ground or agreement on some of the issues, then there a good chance this will end up at the Ontario Municipal Board,” said Van Patter.  

But Sebban, for one, was not worried about the OMB.

“There is a business case study if anybody is worried about the OMB, and I encourage everyone to read it. It’s called David and Goliath,” said Sebben.