Digging into Gravel Pits - Old Grey Mayors with Guest Todd Cowan

October 13, 2021, Kitchener, Ontario

Posted by: Robert Deutschmann, Personal Injury Lawyer

Todd and Rob met when they were both elected and served on Regional Council. They had much in common; being novice mayors, elected in their first run, and both mayors of townships. They got to know each other well, and they became friends as they served on Regional Council, the Board at the Grand River Conservation Authority, and the rural mayors' group together. Both Rob and Todd were active in their communities, were learning their jobs and the hot issues on the fly, and both served one term. Oh, and let’s not forget that are old, grey mayors!

In this, the second in a series of two interviews with Todd Cowan, Rob and he have an in-depth conversation about the always controversial business of gravel pit proposals and how difficult they are to turn down. Gravel pits are an area of 'special interest' for the province and gravel is a high-demand resource. It is used in everything from toothpaste to road building. Gravel is vital to daily life, and as Todd points out the Province of Ontario is the largest purchaser of the resource.

Upon election, Todd was (un)fortunate enough to have a gravel pit proposal already before the township council to deal with. Throughout his election canvassing, in Conestogo, Winterbourne, and West Montrose he heard from angry and concerned residents that the proposed gravel pits should be stopped. When he was door-knocking, Todd expected questions about taxation and programming but he was wrong.

Residents in West Montrose had been preparing to fight a pit proposed there for years. The community here had mobilized and was raising money to fight the proposal.

The proposed Hunsberger Pit slated for Conestogo would be in the immediate back yards of village residents. People were concerned about noise, property values, air quality, and groundwater. Residents here asked for the council’s support. Todd, the planner at the Township, and the council examined the proposal thought very carefully about what to do. Battling a gravel pit proposal is extremely expensive requiring an enormous amount of money, time and outside expert advice.

The first question council  asked the lawyers and the technical experts was whether the Township had a strong chance of succeeding. The answer came back that they had a good case and so Council began the process of denying the application. Their argument was based on fact, backed by expert opinion, and supported by the ‘high priced’ legal experts in Toronto.

Of course, turning the proposal down was the easy part. The appeal at the Ontario Municipal Board (OMB) would be a challenge. The Township and community worked together gathering facts, funds, and support, the OMB came to town and took over the council chambers for the week-long hearing. In the end, the Township won their appeal in a hearing that was watched very closely by the aggregate industry and neighbouring municipalities as well. The pit application was denied. In total Todd recalls that the Township spent around $400K and suspects the community fundraised another $100K for their reports and experts.

The Township’s attention then turned to the pit in West Montrose which was proposed directly adjacent to the “Kissing Bridge” one of the last standing covered bridges in the province. The bridge is a cultural and heritage resource and the community and council agreed that the proposed pit location was not appropriate. The Township hunkered down for another battle and began the denial process by asking the pit applicant to provide additional information.

Whether by luck or by or because they feared the loss of another expensive application on appeal at the OMB, the gravel pit owners did not provide the required information by the deadline date, and their pit application expired. It was the best outcome Todd could have hoped for.

Since serving his term as mayor Todd has remained active in the community by establishing The Waterloo Region Rural Post, a weekly paper focussing on the rural townships of Waterloo Region. It is distributed to 70,000 households in the Region and parts of Wellington and Perth Counties as well. Both Rob and Todd agree that local newspapers are vital to covering and spreading local news which is covered poorly on social media. Weekly publications have an important role in keeping readers informed of local and relevant news, and encouraging community engagement.

There is much more to this podcast. Give it and the other episodes a listen on your favourite podcast platform or online. They are just the right length to listen to while you commute to and from work. You will walk away knowing much more about the community than before.

Posted under Old Grey Mayors

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