By Matthew Strader
It was standing room only in the council chambers, as well as the overflow room set up in the cafeteria at town hall, as dozens of Caledon residents showed on Monday night to protest Olympia Sand and Gravel’s application for a 293 acre gravel pit in North West Caledon. In the end, council voted to approve the application, with Ward 1 Area Councillor Doug Beffort, the lone councillor voting against.
Residents did not relent as they continued to protest the Melville Pit during a meeting Monday night at Caledon’s town hall.
Olympia Sand and Gravel – comprised of Caledon based investors – had requested to rezone 293 acres of land above the water table between Porterfield and Willoughby Roads. Monday’s meeting produced passionate criticism from the crowd.
Dozens of Caledon residents packed the town hall chambers and an overflow viewing area to discuss, poke holes in, and protest the request.
The demand from residents was clear: no more gravel pits.
The answer from council was: if they meet our policies, and are in a certain mapped out area, we don’t have much choice.
Neither side was able to convince the other.
Fifteen people delegated and asked questions about water quality and quantity, insurance rights, property values, health effects, regulations, monitoring, enforcement, and more, as presentation after presentation tabled information difficult to counter.
Town staff was left to defend their report and support of the application amidst what appeared to be another dichotomy between following the minimum requirements of the law and the expectations of residents.
Dr. Eileen Dykes anchored the delegations, introducing herself as a resident who described 16 years of neighbouring a gravel pit, having lived beside the Alton pit during active and inactive cycles.
The pit has gone through three owners in her time, and she wondered what the accountability would be if ownership changed hands on Olympia’s site.
She said a pit owner parked machinery beside her house in order to weigh down a line and she suffered noise and pollution from it. She also informed the noisy crowd that requirements held up as conditions can have loopholes that affect the residents.
Pit operating times, she said, are supposed to be limited to a 7 a.m. minimum. She woke one day to find work being done at 5 a.m., and was less than thrilled to learn that maintenance work can be performed at any hour of the day.
“At this point, I contacted my councillor, who listened sympathetically, but said while this company is known for many infractions, there is nothing he could do about it, and he said moreover, I did know the pit was there when I bought the house.”
Dykes was dismayed by her councillor’s reaction and was reassured by a realtor the book would close on the pit when the western arm of the 407 was complete. When that project finished, though, she said it was another stark reality that a pit can go on forever as mining continued. It is dormant today, but she knows it can restart any day.
“And my living hell of living beside a gravel pit could start once again,” she said.
Paul Bunt, the representative of Citizens Against the Melville Pit (CAMP), said his group researched the application according to its consideration of the relevant provincial policies and Town of Caledon Official Plan (OP) policies.
“In our view, the report as presented does not provide a sufficient basis for you to form an opinion,” he said. “We believe the report and application have a number of inconsistencies with the Official Plan. We believe you cannot approve because of this.”
Bunt attacked the town meetings conducted to inform the public of the application. A Public Information Meeting (PIM) in June of 2008 was not properly advertised to residents, he said, and did not produce a required accompanying staff report.
As well, Bunt said his group learned the meeting was interrupted and not completed. Because of this, his group doesn’t believe it can be considered official under the planning act. At the second meeting in 2013, a number of resident concerns were raised, with a Town of Caledon staff commitment to provide answers. Answers the residents never received, Bunt said, again questioning the validity of the meeting.
Water usage was the greatest concern and perhaps the item with the least reliable information, because full testing has not been performed.
A simple water pump test dominated much of the debate. Bunt pointed out that a study performed by AECOM showed Olympia using 78 million litres of water a week for washing operations. In comparison, he said, the entire Town of Orangeville uses 49 million a week.
The exact impacts will not be known until a pump test is completed in the area, and according to Mark Schiller of the Region of Peel, temporary permits can be obtained to do the test.
However, the town’s planning staff and CAO countered that they had information from the province that a permit could not obtained before approvals are given by the town. Schiller said he believed that was for permanent permits, and that he frequently obtained temporaries for testing.
The residents hired a hydrogeologist to perform their own study, and were informed unequivocally that, “there is nowhere near enough water in the aquifer.”
The staff report recommended limiting water taking to 50,000 litres a week, until a water permit can be obtained by the company, because the testing will be tied to the permit. For Bunt, this was the complete opposite of the responsibility espoused in the Town’s OP.
He also said requirements for a traffic study were listed in the staff report, but not met, and that the town did not ask for comments on the study.
Bunt said the application and staff report simply weren’t consistent with OPA 161, the town’s guidelines for aggregate applications.
“If you want to rely on 161, you have to deal with all the policies of 161,” Bunt said.
Mary Hall, the town’s Director of Planning, Development and Policy Approval, said the traffic issues are the region’s as it is a regional road and said the town does have comments from the region concerning access.
She also said her department believed both meetings met the requirements of the act. Hall turned to the hydrogeologist hired by the town to answer to concerns about water taking.
He said the issue of how much water is out there is still outstanding, as testing will be performed when the applicant applies for a permit to take water.
At the conclusion of the meeting, Ward 1 Area Councillor Doug Beffort was the lone councillor to vote against the application, stating that the cart is before the horse.
“We have to talk about what the water issues are before we make the decision.”
Ward 1 Regional Councillor Richard Paterak explained why he was voting for the application.
He said the town worked to reduce the amount of land designated a resource area for aggregate from 16,000 acres to 7,600, but that work came with costs, and those costs were agreeing that within the designated 7,600 the town would be accommodating if applications met requirements. And with the town staff agreeing that requirements were met, his hands were tied.
When the town faced resident opposition to the downtown Bolton Tim Hortons, planners told them they had zero to no chance of winning the fight at the OMB, but they went anyway for residents, he said, spent the money, and lost.
“To waste half a million of your dollars like that, I cannot do that,” he said. “Whatever the consequences for me personally, I cannot do that.”
Caledon’s council passed the approval with an amendment requesting the Ministry of Natural Resources grant a license for dry extraction only.