BILL REA & JAMES MATTHEWS
Opponents of a proposed gravel pit near Orangeville say the development could be a public health detriment. And they’re taking the matter to the Ontario Municipal Board.
Members of the volunteer group Citizens Against the Melville Pit (CAMP) held a public information meeting in Orangeville on Thursday and another Sunday in Alton. About 40 people turned up Thursday despite the sloppy slushy rain, while as many as 120 fi led through the Alton Mill’s doors on Sunday.
“Research we’ve been doing has led us to understand more deeply the need to protect our community,” Samantha Asher, CAMP president, told the Orangeville audience. She said that protection extends to ensuring integrity of the air and water and to maintaining lifestyle. “The right to lifestyle is connected with community,” she said. And later: “It fundamentally doesn’t make sense to have an industrial extraction area next to a residential area.”
CAMP’s focus is on a proposed 200-acre gravel pit to be located one kilometer south of Orangeville. Ms. Asher said that land parcel is equal to 220 football fields in size. Currently, the area is farmland.
The proponents, a company called Olympia Sand and Gravel Ltd., hope to extract as much as 1.2 million tonnes of aggregate each year. And they say recycling of construction debris will take place on site. Should it begin extraction, the Melville pit will be the third largest in Caledon—this, the area where Ontario’s largest pit is located.
Caledon Council voted in favour of the pit on Dec. 9. A month later, residents launched an appeal of the decision OMB, where the issue currently resides. “In Melville, nobody’s comfortable with this idea that I know of,” said one person in the Orangeville audience. Orangeville’s drinking water is served by three wells in the area. Two of the wellheads are deemed to be vulnerable if the extraction site starts pperation, said Paul Bunt, a member of CAMP. “It’s alarming, to say the least,” he said.
And Ms. Asher: “It’s a collective community. The political boundary dissolves when we talk about water.” As many people who live in the county’s smaller municipalities work and shop in Orangeville, the number of people who depend on sound water and air quality increases.
And that makes the Melville pit a Dufferin County issue. There’s been no talk from municipalities or the company about measures to ensure air quality is not affected by increased dust and other airborne contaminates. There isn’t even a mechanism in place for regular air testing. Ms. Asher said residents need to “lobby municipalities to monitor air quality and ensure there are penalties to companies for infractions.”
An arrow in CAMP’s quiver is a letter written by Dr. David Mowat, the medical offi cer of health for Peel Public Health. The letter is dated Jan. 17, and was sent to a number of provincial and municipal politicians. “Peel Public Health requests both the Ministries of Natural Resources and the Environment to assess and monitor the cumulative impact of multiple aggregate facilities currently operating in Caledon Village and of new pits that are proposed,” Dr. Mowat wrote.
“Peel Public Health staff would like to meet with you or your staff to discuss this further.” Mr. Bunt, who is a traffi c engineer, said there is no legislation in place to limit which thoroughfares large trucks carrying aggregate from the pit and recyclable debris to the pit can use. That means taxpayers will be open to footing the bill to maintain many roads. There are also pedestrian safety issues with large trucks carrying tonnes of gravel.
Current levies paid to towns by trucking companies are a pittance when compared to costs of road repair. “There’s nothing preventing trucks from nearing residential areas,” he said.
Ms. Asher, who chaired Sunday’s meeting, told the Alton audience they want to spread good information and demonstrate why they are fighting this. “We have to protect our community,” she declared.
Ms. Asher explained that CAMP is a non-profi t, volunteer organization working to preserve food-producing land, clean water and access to clean water. She said it all ties into public health, adding they are trying to preserve the local lifestyle. That includes fighting such industrial operations going so close to residential areas.
Addressing the massiveness of this proposal, Ms. Asher said it will take up the equivalent of 220 National Football League fields, adding it will be the third largest pit in Caledon. She said the original application dates to 2005, and the first public information meeting was in 2008. The application was updated about a year ago, with an open house last April, followed by another public information meeting in June.
“We were all sort of scratching our heads,” she said of that session, believing they weren’t getting all of the information. So opponents to the proposal started doing their own research, and CAMP was founded in July.
The group made council deputations in Caledon and Orangeville in August, and engaged legal counsel in December. Pointing to the concerns over water, air and traffic, Ms. Asher said the OMB appeal is necessary. “We’re going to push through because it’s what we have to do to make it right.”
Water is a huge issue, she stressed. She said discrepancies have been found in many of the reports, adding an expert had predicted the local aquifer will dry up in four days if the operation is approved. Asher added no one has refuted those findings. Ms. Asher pointed out that local residents depend on well water, and she wondered what would happen if the aquifer went dry. “Who will help us if we do run out of water?” she asked.
“Together, we can win this,” she urged the audience, “and together we can protect what we care about, and water is one of those things.”
Mary Haslett of CAMP recalled that Dr. Alex Riddell, an ear, nose and throat specialist, addressed Town councillors the night they voted to support the proposal, stating there were concerns over respiration health. She pointed out excavation creates dust, with the fi ne particles being carried by the wind, and that Dr. Riddell had predicted they will have impacts, especially on the elderly, as well as young people who spend a lot of time outside running around. Ms. Haslett commented there are three schools near the site, meaning there will be an impact on more than 1,000 students. She also referred to dust that will fall off trucks carrying the mined material.
In terms of what can be done, Ms.Haslett observed that the Town of Oakville has a bylaw that allows for fi nes for companies that pollute excessively. She added the Town can be called upon to do regular air-monitoring tests, as well as to require aggregate applicants to address how they are going to deal with pollution.
Mr. Bunt told the Alton meeting he has fond errors in the technical data. He said the plan is to have the haul route run out of the property to Porterfi eld Road, then north to Orangeville’s South Bypass (County Road 109), then east to Highway 10. But he pointed out there’s nothing than mandates truck drivers to use such a route. “Trucks go where they want to go,”, he said, adding they could run through the heart of Alton. “There’s no certainty that this is not going to happen.” He added the Bypass is not the optimal road to handle this kind of truck traffic. As well, he pointed out that while the property is in Caledon, Orangeville is going to be impacted. The Bypass is a Dufferin County road, meaning the money for maintaining it will have to come from there. Orangeville and Dufferin will see no financial benefit from this operation.
One man at the meeting pointed out that if construction work is needed on the Bypass, trucks will likely be diverted through Alton. “Gravel truck drivers are notorious for not paying attention to the regulations,” Mr. Bunt observed. “You can’t rely on what they’re supposed to do.”
There were a couple of questions about why such an operation is needed now. Asher said the regulations do not require an applicant to demonstrate need. “At t he common-sense level, we all have to be asking ‘why?’” she commented.
Questions were also raised about the quality of the material on the site, with some wondering why anyone would want to mine it. Mr. Bunt also said there are proposals for a recycling depot on the site, meaning loaded trucks could be both entering and leaving.
Ms. Asher wondered what the recycled material might contain, and what could end up seeping into the aquifer. There were a couple of political comments coming up at the meeting, as one man urged people to remind councilors this is an election year. “This smells of a Tory policy,” one man charged. “It’s all about jobs at any cost.” “They built the space shuttle Columbia with the lowest bidder, and the same thing with the Titanic,” he added. “That doesn’t mean it’s the right thing to do.” “The whole regime needs to be changed at election time,” another man charged. “Vote them out of office.”