Prince Edward County Council has approved an Official Plan Amendment and Bylaw rezoning application amendment that will allow for a Ridge Rd. asparagus farm to be transitioned into an operational Class B, Category 7 aggregate operation.
Council met Tuesday during their regular meeting at Shire Hall to decide on the much contested aggregate pit, proposed by Paul and Sandi Greer of Greenridge Farms. With the application for the pit having been submitted nearly two years ago, the need for council to come to a decision on this topic was palpable.
After several deputations were made by the public, mostly opposing the pit, and one made by the Greer’s legal counsel, county council voted to approve the Greer’s application with an additional paragraph proposing an adaptive plan.
Though it has been roughly two years since the Greer’s began the application process for aggregate extraction at their asparagus farm on Ridge Road, it has only been about two weeks since council met to discuss the staff report on the proposed site and to hear subsequent concerns from the public.
Based on the information delivered at the meeting on August 21, council decided to defer any action in regards to the Greer’s application, citing various concerns noted in deputations by those opposed to such a change.
A recurring topic of concerns was the effect that the proposed pit would have on the water table.
Speaking to this issue were several concerned citizens, including Paul Allen. Allen described a rush to digest the staff report, which included such information as the hydrogeology study conducted by Melroz Engineering. The report was apparently only available to the public shortly before the meeting on August 21st.
The crux of Allen’s concern is that, as per the Aggregate Resources Act, Greer must keep his excavation 1.5 metres above the water table, which, according to Allen, will be difficult to determine. This is due to the curvature of the land and the type of soil.
“I’m not going to speak about the risk of land like this, where the water table is so close to the surface or the fact that it is sand that stands between the water table and the surface, though this is generally considered to be the most vulnerable land when it comes to the risk of exposure to contamination whether that’s agricultural insecticides, fertilizers or spills that may arise through accidents,” Allen stated.
Allen further stated that he believes it is late in the day for the proponent to provide council with a “reliable and unbiased” estimate of the groundwater at the proposed site. Not mincing words, Allen stated that council would be remiss to allow the operation of such an aggregate pit, or even, to “ease its way” by amending the Official Plan and bylaws, until they have a solid understanding of the nature of the groundwater table on Ridge Road.
“I don’t think you can repair or make up for the shortfall in the study of the groundwater table by building up an adaptive management plan. We don’t know what the water table is on this site and the remedy for that is not to go ahead and extract aggregate so long as (Greer) takes a little extra care,” stated Allen.
According to Allen’s deputation, in order to try and ascertain the depth of groundwater at the site, there was a review of well water records registered within 500 metres, as well as a review of a well on the farm and a measure of groundwater at five test pits. Based on their findings from these reviews, Melroz Engineering concluded that the water table falls at 81.4 masls, which would mean the pit floor should be centred at 83 masls.
“The first concern I had as I paid closer attention to this report is the way Melroz is handling contrary evidence. There’s a paragraph towards the end of this part of the report where they acknowledge several of the water wells showed levels above 82 masls. They disregard those findings as incompatible and not relevant to establishing the real water level on this site,” said Allen.
Allen argued that water levels were often higher than the estimated groundwater level put forth by Melroz, according to measurements taken from wells on the site.
“In nearly two-thirds of those wells, the levels exceeded Melroz estimate of the established groundwater table at the site and in nearly two-fifths the water levels in those wells exceeded what’s being proposed here as the pit floor,” he argued.
Greg Meeds of Vice & Hunter LLP spoke on behalf of the Greers.
Meeds strongly urged council to make a decision with regard to the pit application, reiterating that applications were filed in November 2017 and since that time, his clients have been cooperative and patient and have done everything asked of them by council and staff to resolve concerns.
Typically, the type of “scrutiny , review, and peer review” in this case is more typically seen for pit operations that intend to go below the water table.
“My client could have applied to permit a far more extensive Class A operation for very little additional time and expense.”
Meeds argued council has all the information required to make an informed decision.
“Given the recommendations of staff, based on submitted peer reviewed studies and reports, in the event that council refuses the application, it would be in the position of having to try to find and retain outside land use planning experts and other subject matter experts to support a decision which would be contrary to the (staff) conclusion, opinion and recommendations before you,” Meeds argued.
Councillor Phil St. Jean confirmed that he, like several other councillors, is concerned about the water table. Given this, he suggested an amendment to the by law which would include data logging wells.
Acting CAO Robert MacAuley noted although they may be “expectful and hopeful” that the MNR will include such additions, under the ARA, they have the option to completely ignore them.
“Perhaps the recommendation has direction that the adaptive plan include such matters,” said MacAuley, explaining, “That allows some latitude for the Greers and MNR to work on what the plan will include to try and find a comprise, rather than guessing and having it struck down.”
In a final speech on the matter, Mayor Steve Ferguson spoke to the seriousness of the groundwater table issue, but stated that there was nothing unreasonable either in the steps taken or that which was proposed.
“I’m comforted by the fact that that this operation is being run by a long standing local family who have 200 years of heritage and history in the municipality. Also, a family that have done their bit for the community. If this application had come forward by another entity, another company, coming from perhaps away I think we would all have more concern. But, in my mind, concerns of the residents have been addressed satisfactorily,” stated Ferguson.