Kitchener-Waterloo

Province's plans to change gravel pit rules could harm local water, natural areas: report

Regional staff are urging the province to reconsider changes that would loosen rules around gravel mining and other aggregate extraction.

It's vital to stop companies from mining below the water table, region's planning commissioner says

This aerial photo shows aggregate pits in Puslinch, said North Dumfries Mayor Sue Foxton. Regional council must now decide if a report will be sent to the province outlining concerns about changes to mining and other aggregate extraction that could endanger local water and wildlife areas. (Submitted by Sue Foxton)

Regional staff are urging the province to reconsider proposed policy changes that could loosen rules around gravel mining and other aggregate extraction.

Aggregate is the technical term for raw materials like sand, gravel and stone.

The proposed changes are outlined in a draft update to the Provincial Policy Statement, a document that provides direction on land use planning across the province.

One such change would prevent municipalities from setting limits on how deep operators can dig when extracting resources from underground, the regional report said.

Rod Regier is the region's commissioner of planning, development and legislative services. He told CBC it is "vital" for municipalities to prevent extraction below the water table.

"It's a layer of protection," said Regier.

"If you're not extracting below the water table and there's an incident … it's much easier to remediate and clean up and before any contaminants get into the aquifers."

If the province does roll back municipalities' power to set vertical limits on extraction, the report said it should compensate by creating a "more robust" application process for companies who want to expand extraction into the water table.

Right now, it said companies who are licensed for above-water-table pits can simply apply to extend down into the water table by getting a site plan amendment approved by the province.

Municipalities only have commenting power on these amendments and don't have any right to appeal, the report said.  

In a statement to CBC, a spokesperson for the Ministry of Natural Resources and Forestry said the province is seeking feedback on changes to the Aggregate Resources Act.

These changes would create a "more robust" application process for operators and allow municipalities to bring their concerns to the Local Planning Appeal Tribunal, as suggested in the regional report. 

'Like chopping a leg off'

Another proposed change could allow companies to extract resources in natural areas — including the habitats of endangered species — as long as there is a long-term rehabilitation plan in place to mitigate the damage, the report said.

According to a recent review of aggregate licenses in Waterloo region, the report said only 20 per cent of land excavated for aggregate production has undergone rehabilitation.

"We sometimes see adequate remediation and sometimes not," Regier said.

"It seems clear to us that when you remove a particular provincially significant environmental resource, that the chances of it being rehabilitated to its original standard is fairly low," he said.

Sue Foxton, mayor of the Township of North Dumfries, said former rolling hills and forests in her community have been damaged by aggregate extraction.

"It can't ever be mitigated long term," said Foxton. "It's like chopping a leg off […] it doesn't grow back."

Foxton said she understands the province's need for aggregate as a raw material to build infrastructure but said the province must work in partnership with municipalities to strike a balance between resource development and environmental protection.

Regional council must now decide if the report will be sent to the province.

Foxton is also a member of regional council and said she plans to vote in favour of sending the report to the province.

Steve Clark, the minister of municipal affairs and housing, was unavailable for an interview Monday.

A spokesperson for the minister sent CBC a statement saying that changes to the Provincial Policy Statement will "increase housing supply, support job creation and reduce red tape."

The spokesperson went on to say that the province will review and consider all comments on changes to the provincial policy statement. 

Regional council must now decide if a report will be sent to the province outlining concerns about changes to mining and other aggregate extraction that could endanger local water and wildlife areas. (Kate Bueckert/CBC)

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