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Council wants province to uphold land-use agreement to keep gravel pit from expanding

'That buffer has to be kept': Councillors oppose company's plans to expand gravel pit

A promise to keep a farmland buffer between a Cedar Creek Road gravel pit and more than 200 homes on the city’s west side has little bearing on an application to expand the pit, according to the North American director of land and resource for St. Marys CBM.

In a phone interview with CambridgeToday, David Hanratty said the company has been studying its expansion plan for the last four years and applied to the Ministry of Natural Resources and Forestry Services under the Aggregate Resources Act (ARA) last month.

Their proposal amends the existing extraction licence for the Dance Pit by adding 21.2 hectares of land that abuts the backyards of homes on Delavan Drive, Harwood Road and Wadsworth Crescent.

Cambridge councillors voted unanimously to oppose the application Tuesday in a motion brought forward by Coun. Pam Wolf citing impacts to people’s health and quality of life from dust, vibration and noise generated by the operation.

The Township of North Dumfries hadn’t received a planning application prior to the proposal going to the MNRF and objected to it because staff didn’t have time to review technical reports for the site.

Now that both municipalities have voiced objections, Hanratty said CBM will work through the process to address any concerns arising through the commenting period, which ends Dec. 14.

Hanratty said the application is just the start of a lengthy official review process that includes municipal stakeholders, the MNRF, the Ministry of the Environment and agencies like the Grand River Conservation Authority.

As for the deed agreement that calls for the subject land to be maintained for agricultural use, Hanratty acknowledged it was a part of the original land owner agreement but said it doesn’t prevent the company from applying.

“It’s a very rigorous process in the province of Ontario,” he said. “It’s actually the most rigorous process for getting resources licensed in the world. So we have a very high bar to meet.

“As such we have to design it in a way that’s going to minimize impacts and influences on the neighbouring receptors. That’s why we took so long. That’s why we talked to the neighbours. That’s why we waited until we did to apply, because we felt we had a design that would work and allow us to be able to extract the property and minimize impacts on surrounding receptors.”

But Tracy Bartlett says she already suffers daily impacts from pit operations.

The Delavan Drive homeowner told councillors that noise from the Dance Pit and the Hanson Pit regularly wakes the neighbourhood up before 7 a.m. and vibrations emanating from the Dance Pit gravel crusher shake the cupboards in their home.

Dust from the pit is so bad during the week, she said, neighbours can’t open their windows to let fresh air in. Neighbours that work night shifts can’t sleep during the day because of the noise.

Bartlett said the region’s official plan requires zoning applications for major facilities include a cumulative impact assessment specific to dust, and any proposed operations must demonstrate they will not produce adverse effects on neighbouring receptors.

The same is true of provincial policy, which requires extensive mitigation efforts for any application next to homes.

Hanratty contends the company has gone beyond what’s required in the Aggregate Resource Act in terms of setbacks, and with a proposed berm, vegetation and other measures in place to prevent dust and noise from affecting the neighbourhood, he believes all requirements have been met.

Provincial legislation only requires 100 feet of distance between neighbouring properties.

“We’ve doubled it to 200 feet,” he said, adding technical studies show the company could have applied for the additional reserves by designing the extraction site up to the 100-foot limit. 

“But we chose to double the setback, sacrifice the reserves and make sure there was an additional buffer.”

On the issue of how long the site would be active if approved, he said it’s entirely market dependent.

If demand for aggregate justifies extraction at the maximum annual permit limit of 750,000 tonnes, Hanratty estimates it would take eight to 10 years for the land to be exhausted of aggregate and rehabilitated back to farmland. 

Coun. Wolf fears the province's tendency to favour the aggregate industry will make it difficult to prevent the expansion even with the written agreement for the buffer. 

In calling out the double standard tilted toward the industry, Wolf said If a developer wants to build a subdivision next to a gravel pit, the Aggregate Resource Act would require the buffer to be twice as much than if the situation was reversed.

She said there’s no way the province would allow the Dance Pit to expand so close to the city boundary if the rules were equal.  

Hanratty told CambridgeToday he couldn’t provide specific examples of other pits being so close to a residential neighbourhood, but said the Dance Pit is in no way unique.

“It’s not typical,” he admitted. “The point is we study it for a period of time, make sure that all of our technical studies are completed to a very high standard and then make sure that we’re providing the right setbacks and mitigation measures to make sure that any kind of neighbour is not going to be impacted by the operation.”

Hanratty said if a resolution can’t be reached, the company has the option to appeal it to the Ontario Land Tribunal.

“That’s something I don’t think any party benefits from,” he said. “We certainly work very hard to try and resolve all objections over the next couple of years.” 

In the meantime, Wolf and other councillors hope the MNRF demands the company keep the promise written into the land deed.

“If a promise was made there should be a way to hold them to that promise,” said Coun. Donna Reid.

Coun. Mike Devine described the application as the equivalent of building a 500,000 square foot factory in people’s backyards.

“That buffer has to be kept,” he said.

“I certainly wouldn’t want that in my backyard,” added Coun. Nicholas Ermetta. “I’m concerned about the dust impacts and the quality of life in that neighbourhood.”

Coun. Scott Hamilton agreed. Before becoming a councillor, he said he attended a public meeting on the proposal two years ago and believed then that a promise to maintain the agricultural land buffer had to be upheld.

The city needs to do whatever it can to ensure the quality of life of those residents is maintained, he said.

More public open houses will be planned over the next two years as the application seeks ministry approval.