Gail Martin, Independent Editor
Depending on whom you listen to, the province’s Aggregate Resources Act either needs some minor tweaking, or a complete overhaul.
At the Aggregate Resources Act review hearing, held in Kitchener on Monday, an all-party committee of the Ontario legislature was charged with the task of sorting it out.
The committee, which included Kitchener-Conestoga MPP Michael Harris as a local substitute at this week’s
meeting, also toured local
gravel pit operations earlier in the day, before sitting down for a five-hour session at the Holiday Inn on Fairway Road in Kitchener.
Doug Joy, a civil engineer who lives in Conestogo, represented the Conestogo-Winterbourne Residents Association at the hearing.
Joy said while his group recognizes the need for gravel, they have serious concerns about the ARA as it currently functions.
He noted that his area is subject to five gravel pit applications.
“If they are approved, these operations will be active for the rest of my life, and the rest of the life of most of us,” said Joy, who pointed to traffic, noise and loss of property values as the major concerns Conestogo and Winterbourne residents are facing.
He proposed a minimum separation distance of 1600m from pits to residential development, in the case where multiple pits are planned, as a means of dealing with the cumulative effect of multiple pits.
Bob Hunsberger, a landowner near Conestogo and Winterbourne whose property is the subject of a gravel pit application, told a different story. He suggested that the ARA is “not broken,” and any revisions should have a greater focus on improving efficiencies, rather than making significant changes.
“The review and updates should be focused on streamlining the process of licencing while ensuring that environmental and social impacts continue to be minimized,” said Hunsberger.
Mark Reusser, of the Waterloo Federation of Agriculture, was vocal in his critique of the ARA, and how it fails to protect prime agricultural land.
Reusser said that Waterloo Region has some of the best farmland in the country — and is losing that same farmland at the rate of 2,000 acres annually, to development and gravel pits.
Reusser was also very critical of the rehabilitation of gravel pits, saying that gravel pits amount to the “permanent destruction” of viable farmland, a nonrenewable natural resource.
“It took nearly 10,000 years since the last ice age for that soil to evolve, it can’t be restored in two weeks with a bulldozer.”
“We have no confidence and have seen no evidence that any retired extraction site has been or ever will be rehabilitated back to any semblance of its original agricultural capacity,” said Reusser.
The WFA is asking the province to prohibit aggregate extraction on prime agricultural land, make the restoration of pits back to farmland mandatory, not optional, and require that rehabilitation takes place in a staged process.
Woolwich Township also made a presentation, with mayor Todd Cowan accompanied by township director of planning and engineering Dan Kennaley, and township CAO David Brenneman.
The township is seeking an increased tax on aggregate material, and to have the province eliminate the ability of the MNR to override site plan provisions required by a municipality, without the municipality’s consent. The township also wants to see a minimum distance separation for gravel pits from settlement areas, to avoid the costly conflicts Woolwich has faced with current pit applications.
The text of their presentation was the same as a letter produced by the township in May, when it wasn’t clear whether the ARA hearings would come to the area, nor whether the township would have an opportunity to speak.
The West Montrose Residents’ Association (BridgeKeepers), in its presentation, criticized the MNR and its lack of review of pit applications, as well as the lack of enforcement, once pits are approved.
The committee will travel to hear the concerns of aggregate producers and residents in Ottawa and Sudbury next week.