Save the marsh group looking for some support from local community

It takes more than a bit of foul weather to deter residents here when it comes to protecting their turf.
It was a packed hall at the Damascus community centre on Dec. 11 as members of the Stop The Quarry – Save Luther Marsh committee presented their information to area residents. The group has opposed the proposed Wilson Quarry at Monck for over a decade.
That proposal is now before the Ontario Municipal Board with a pre-hearing held in November.
While billed as a community information night, the meeting had the secondary goal of drumming up interest and finan­cial support for the group.
While representatives of the proponents were at the meeting, they were not on the agenda to speak.
Group co-chairman Peter Follet acted as moderator for the meeting and introduced the presenters for the night who included: Dr. Shelly Hunt an assistant professor at the University of Guelph; Geoff Lind, businessman and local landowner; Dr. Wendy Agnew, Environmental Science; Steve Roberts, hydrogeologist; and Jim Todd, a local businessman.
Follet explained the group  was formed in 1993 shortly af­ter the Wilson Quarry was proposed. He maintained that the group is not against quarries in general – but group members are concerned about this one be­cause of its location and potential impacts to the Luther Marsh.
“We are interested in preserving the integrity and the quality of life of this community,” Follet said.
The quarry proposal first came to West Luther Township council in 1991, with the opposition group forming a few years later.
Follet said many of those involved in the process not only have expertise on the associated issues, but are also area residents.
One of the underlying concerns is an earlier promise made by proponents of the quarry to send copies of all as­soci­ated reports regarding the quarry – however those reports have not always been forthcoming. As a result of the OMB pre-heating, the group has since received more up-to-date information, but has not had the time to fully review it.
Some felt that the quarry owner’s move to put the matter before the OMB is circumventing the public process. How­ever, that process has dragged on for well over a decade.
Follet said the proposal is not a simple gravel pit, and a quarry of the magnitude proposed would pump an undetermined amount of groundwater into the Luther Marsh – and from there into the Grand River watershed.
Following the pre-heating on Nov. 6., meetings were slated for mediation in January and February, and a second pre-hearing is set for April 15. Following that, a OMB hearing is slated for mid-September.
Project viability
Businessman and area resident Geoff Lind lives about a half mile south of the proposed quarry. He has definite concerns with the issue of wells and property values in the area.
Lind has lived in the area for 35 years. “I love the community and raised my family here.”
Now, he has a ‘For Sale” sign on his property.
“Do I want out before a quar­ry comes in? To some extent it is true.”
However, he also pointed to his family’s background in the aggregate and concrete business since 1912. He believed he has some qualifications in speaking on the issue.
“One could say I know a bit more than the average Joe about the aggregate and quarry industry.”
His concerns include land values, water tables, truck traffic, and the impact to the marsh.
Lind’s research suggested this is not huge in terms of land area, nor in the amount of material to be produced.
“But for the costs involved in the start-up of such an operation, the viability of a small quarry is, at best, questionable. This is not a wayside gravel pit … It is open pit mining.”
To maintain the economies of scale, yet deal with the setback on a 150 acre property, Lind said the only way to re­cover the financial investment would be to dig much deeper than what the proponent is currently applying for. One of his concerns is that if approval is given to the pit, what will happen is a subsequent application to extract more material from the site.
The projected volumes cannot add up – unless you go deep, Lind said.
Such activity, he added, is bound to affect the water table and an underground lake near the marsh.
He said his opposition to the project has nothing to do with the Wilson family, who  have been good neighbours. “This is about the community.”
Traffic concerns
Local furniture maker Jim Todd has concerns on the traffic impact on the community.
While not an expert on traffic counts, Todd said he believes he has seen enough to know how people are likely to act.
He believes the reality of the area being on haulage routes could result in serious issues for the community.
His estimate is that to haul 1 million tonnes of gravel, there would need to be a truck every six minutes – excluding return trips.
Additional concerns crop up, he said, if drivers are paid by the load, and not by the hour.
Those drivers, he suggested, might pay less attention to speed limits. Plus, the vehicles will create more wear and tear on local roads, and noise and dust, he said. Todd then noted the use of the roads by three school busses each day.
He said there have been some terrible accidents in the area and the trucks would be travelling up and down County Road 16 on the brightest and worst days.
Todd wondered who would pay to fix culverts or repair roads damaged by the additional truck traffic.
While Todd admits to only to having lived in the area for several years, he has seen a spike of growth in new families with young children.
“This community has a right to remain a quiet crossroads.”
Dr. Shelly Hunt, an assistant professor and biologist, lives on Wellington Road 16.
She and her husband moved to the area two years ago. Hunt described the Luther Marsh as a wildlife habitat designated by the province as a significant wetland. Further, she described the marsh as the largest inland wetland in southern Ontario.
Part of that can be attributed to the large management area surrounding Luther Lake – about 13,000 acres.
“It is quite the island of wildlife habitat in an area of agriculture,” she said. She agreed that, for the most part, it is a man-made creation. Little of that wetland existed prior to the 1950s, when a dam was built and the land flooded to create the lake.
“You might think a man-made lake and planted forests are unimportant,” but Hunt argued the area supports a diverse habitat of plant and animal life – including several rare and endangered species.
But what affects the marsh also affects the surrounding com­munity, she said.
She added that nearby Wylde Lake, a boreal bog remnant, is the largest undisturbed bog in southwestern Ontario. The area is now a migration stop for many bird species and any changes to the landscape could threaten those patterns.
The foremost threat, Hunt believes, is to the water quality of the marsh.
She said all quarries now re­quire sedimentation ponds, but there are always some materials that dissolve into the water, therefore bypassing that process.
While water levels are subjected to intentional changes, she believed the pumping of water from the proposed quarry could throw a wrench into that management system. “There are still a lot of unknowns,” she said.
Hunt said one, or even four birds (referring to endangered species) may not seem that significant, but they are like the canary in the coal mine, indicating environmental changes.
Follet spoke on behalf of hydrogeologist Steve Roberts, who was unable to attend the first half of the presentation.
Follet said there are questions about the various studies already done over the years.
Some were done by differing consultants, using different standards or methods, thus mak­ing comparisons difficult.
He did, however, note that more information was received following the OMB pre-heating, but the group did not have the time for a full review.
As a result, comments made were based on previously avail­able information which ap­peared incomplete, Follet said.
He said the OMB has asked for additional tests to show the impact on the aquifer. If nearby wells are affected, wells need to be deeper, which, in turn, could affect the quality of water, he said.
Follet said he is concerned that while pumping tests might address some of the issues, the Wilson property is geologically complicated, with artesian quali­ties as well as vertical frac­tures in the rock.
While, the Ministry of the Environment monitors water quality, he suggested it does not have enough staff for the job.
Wendy Agnew, experienced in systems theory in environmental science, moved to the area in 2000. She said her area of expertise is the way in which items are connected.
Agnew said the water systems near the marsh are unusual in that they include numerous underground streams and channels. When she requested the MOE for documentation of that geology, the response was that most of the ministry information is based on modeling studies.
Agnew also had concerns about what happens if the quarry does not comply with standards required. There seems to be no real procedure to deal with environmental threats, she said.
She added that while most pits require rehabilitation plans, in the case of three-quarters of the pits and quarries in the province, “nothing is ever done to rehabilitate the site.”
“I love this place so much – and I don’t want to see the marsh suffer,” Agnew said.
Follet then noted that the group is looking for support, volunteer and financial.