By Chet Greason
The Friends of Transvaal (FoT), an organization of community members who oppose a proposed gravel pit southwest of St. Marys, had a public meeting at River Valley Golf and Country Club and Winter Tube Slide on Saturday, Dec. 15.
The proposed pit, pitched by 1537763 Ontario Inc., is situated at the terminus of Road 127 along the Thames River in an area known locally as Transvaal.
Dr. Romayne Smith Fullerton, herself a resident of the area, headed the meeting, answering questions and mediating the concerns from those present, numbering just over 30.
According to Smith Fullerton, the FoT has done extensive research into how the mega-quarry plan was stopped near Shelburne, Ontario. One name that came up was photographer and documentarian Jason van Bruggen, who did much of the media for the Stop the Mega-Quarry campaign. According to Smith Fullerton, van Bruggen has agreed to take photos of Transvaal for the Friends of Transvaal to use in their media.
However, high-profile photographers aside, the organization still needs volunteers. Smith Fullerton says people are needed to help organize phone campaigns aimed at informing people who don’t have access to the Internet, as well as a concentrated push into St. Marys to let town residents know that the pit could seriously affect the Thames River.
Perhaps the biggest presence needed is in front of Perth South Township council, which has an influence over the possible re-zoning of the property. Councillors Don Henderson and Liz Armstrong were both in attendance at the meeting. The FoT is scheduled to present a delegation to the Council at its meeting on Tuesday, Jan. 22 at 7 p.m.
Another major concern surrounding the pit is the road improvement needed to accommodate gravel trucks coming in and out of the pit. Resident Nancy Clark, who lives with her husband on Line 127, says that crews were taking core samples of the road and marking telephone lines with red flags. Her concern is that, should the road be widened, her property would lose a great deal of its frontage and place the road directly at their front door. “If they’re going to widen the road, don’t you think they should come talk to me?” she said.
However, in speaking with Perth South’s Director of Public Works Larry McGregor on Monday, Dec. 17, The Journal Argus learned that the crew inspecting the road was from a private engineering firm hired by the applicant. “That road has been ID’ed as unsuitable for truck traffic,” clarifies McGregor. “(The applicant) is figuring out if it’s worth their while to proceed.” McGregor further states that no resolution regarding the road has yet been put before Council.
Todd Sleeper of the Friends of the Thames, voiced his concerns regarding the endangerment of at-risk species, a section of the river known locally as Lemonade Springs which bubbles nearby, and the overall health of the river. Sleeper also wondered whether the Thames Valley Trail, which meanders through the property, would survive the pit.
Representatives of the trail, meanwhile, are keeping a low profile, as the trail’s existence relies solely on the goodwill of the landowners. Any decision regarding the trail is up to the people who hold the deed. “They could theoretically say ‘We don’t want you on the land,’” observed one trail representative at a public meeting regarding the pit at the Pyramid Recreation Centre in late October.
“This is not a local company. It’s not employing local people, and the aggregate from the pit is not going to St. Marys,” observed Smith Fullerton at the River Valley meeting, further noting that the 200,000 tonnes of gravel set to be removed from the pit would “not even put a dent” in the total amount of aggregate used by the province annually, “…but it would be devastating to the Transvaal community.”
Also speaking at the meeting was Cindy Moyer, President of the Huron Perth chapter of the Ontario Landowners Association (OLA). Moyer spoke to the crowd about the importance of civic-mindedness and community involvement.
“Where our greatest achievement can be achieved is at the local government level, but very few of us actually go (to council),” she said.
“If we really want a strong Perth County, we need to step up.”
Moyer added that one should never underestimate what a dedicated group with a focus can accomplish, and urged the FoT to send one of their members to the OLA monthly meetings, held at the Mitchell District High School.
When asked whether the conflict between developers and residents went against the OLA’s purpose, which often protects property owners trying to develop their property against red tape, Moyer was quick to defend the FoT. “Our mandate is ‘First do no harm’,” she said of her organization, adding that a private development should not have such a detrimental affect on the neighbouring community.