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Proposed gravel pit expansion causing dust-up in Springwater

'The first couple of years were fine. But by 2019, 2020 and the onset of COVID, everything changed,' says neighbour to George Johnston Road operation
Neighbours Devon Guergis, left, and Esther Allen stand near the fence that separates Allen's property from a proposed gravel pit in Springwater Township, near Snow Valley, north of Barrie.

About a dozen years ago, Devon Guergis found a beautiful spot just north of Barrie to build her dream home.

Located on Boothby Crescent, off Seadon Road and just east of George Johnston Road in Springwater Township, the location was just what the local real estate agent was looking for — an estate lot in a rural setting, surrounded by mature trees and quiet summer breezes.

She knew there was a gravel pit — the Lewis pit owned by Galibier Materials Inc., started in the mid-1970s — about 500 metres north of the property, but it was obstructed by a vacant piece of land was filled with mature trees that acted as a buffer between the residences on Boothby and the pit.

“We knew it was there, but there was no impact on us,” Guergis said. “I never saw any indication that they were even there. We didn’t even hear them.

“We purchased the land and had no idea about what was  going to happen with the pit,” she added. “If we’d known, we would not have purchased, obviously.”

Her neighbour, Esther Allen, bought her house on Boothby Crescent in 2016. Her husband did his due diligence when they bought and, at the time, the Lewis pit was virtually inactive, she said.

“The first couple of years were fine,” Allen said. “But by 2019, 2020 and the onset of COVID, everything changed.”

Allen says she began to notice a marked increase in pit activity — more trucks, more noise and more dust. 

“It was like they ramped up their operations overnight,” she said. “I called every government agency I could to find out what changed.”

For three years, Allen said, she was bumped from government agency to government agency.

“I got absolutely no answers,” she said.

The first time Allen knew for sure things were changing was in September 2021 when Galibier applied for a water-taking permit for aggregate washing.

A year later, Allen and her neighbours say they were informed via registered mail that Galibier had applied for an operating licence for a new pit on Oct. 24, 2022.

In early December 2022, Galibier Materials submitted an application to amend Springwater Township’s Official Plan and zoning bylaw so it could expand the Lewis pit operation. 

The original pit, located at 2791 George Johnston Rd., has roughly five to 10 years of life remaining, according to its owners. They’re looking to secure approvals so they can continue operations on the adjacent parcel to land to the south, at 2857 George Johnston Rd.

Around the same time, Springwater Township received notice of application made under the Aggregate Resources Act (ARA) to facilitate the pit expansion, which is proposed as a ‘Class A – Above Water Table’ pit under the ARA, with a maximum annual limit of 750,000 tonnes.

According to the application, the annual tonnage limit would match and be combined with the current Lewis pit limit, so there would be no increase in truck traffic.

Additionally, the extraction limit along the eastern boundary of the subject land was proposed to be set back 30 metres from the property line abutting residential properties on Boothby Crescent.

On Dec. 16, 2022, Springwater Township provided ARA comments to the Ministry of Natural Resources and Forestry (MNRF) seeking modifications to the proposed ARA operational plans to respect the township’s zoning bylaw regarding extractive setbacks.

Township staff requested the ARA operational plan be revised to comply with the township’s bylaw and move the limit of extraction to no closer than 120 metres to the adjacent residential zones and no closer than 150 metres to any residence located on Boothby Crescent.  

On April 12, 2023, the township held a statutory public meeting to provide the public and Springwater council with an opportunity to comment on the application.

Concerns expressed at that meeting included impacts to water quality, vegetation and wildlife of the Nine Mile Portage Heritage Trail, increased truck traffic, noise and dust, air-quality issues and the impacts to property values, among others.

As a result of the public meeting, township council passed a resolution that the application be referred back to staff and the applicant delay its pursuit of an Official Plan and zoning-bylaw amendment until the province releases its update to the Aggregate Supply and Demand Report, which is slated for the first quarter of 2024. 

Staff was also requested to seek costs for an independent contractor to test the composition of the dust on neighbouring properties.

And lastly, staff was directed to seek a legal opinion regarding the proposed extraction setbacks, in relation to the requirements outlined in the ARA.

Staff received an opinion letter from WeirFoulds LLP stating “the township should stand firm on the setback requirements of the zoning bylaw being met at this time, especially since the applicant has not applied to alter them.”

In a Sept. 6 report to council, staff told council that no revised bylaw had been received and there was no response to the township’s Dec. 16, 2022 ARA comments.

Staff was also of the opinion that a revised draft zoning bylaw indicating the applicant’s intent to apply for a site-specific reduced extractive setback of 30 metres be submitted and that a subsequent statutory public meeting be held to communicate this intent to the public. 

The staff report concluded that once a revised proposal has been received from the applicant, the township will circulate notice of an additional statutory public meeting to be held this fall to residents within 800 metres of the subject land.

On Nov. 14, residents of Boothby Crescent received a "notice of case management conference" from the legal firm Devry Smith Frank.

“The planning applications were deemed complete by township staff on (Dec. 7, 2022) and were the subject of a statutory public meeting on (April 12, 2023). Galibier has hosted a drop-in information centre on the subject property since November 2022 to welcome members of the public and inform the public about the applications,” the letter stated.

“As township council has not yet made a decision on the applications, they were appealed by Galibier to the Ontario Land Tribunal on (Sept. 27, 2023).” 

The case is scheduled to be heard on Friday, Dec. 15, beginning at 10 a.m., via video conference.

Because the Lewis pit expansion is currently in litigation with the Ontario Land Tribunal (OLT), Brent Spagnol, the township's director of planning services, said he couldn’t offer an opinion on the situation.

He did, however, advise that Galibier has not provided a response to council’s request for a peer review of a dust study nor have they provided a revised plan to the municipality.

Marc Kemerer, legal counsel for Galibier, said he couldn’t comment on the case, either, but did provide a short statement in an email to BarrieToday.

“I can advise that the applications have been appealed to the Ontario Land Tribunal over a non-decision on them by township council,” Kemerer wrote. “At that hearing, the evidence will confirm that the applications represent good planning and are in the public interest.

"The applications rely on the provisions of both the Planning Act and the Aggregate Resources Act," he added. 

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Wayne Doyle, Local Journalism Initiative Reporter

About the Author: Wayne Doyle, Local Journalism Initiative Reporter

Wayne Doyle covers the townships of Springwater, Oro-Medonte and Essa for BarrieToday under the Local Journalism Initiative (LJI), which is funded by the Government of Canada
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