A local farming community is organizing to oppose a proposed gravel pit that threatens not only their rural way of life, but the health of the Thames River and the accessibility of the Thames Valley Trail.
Greg Fullerton, owner of Stoneleigh Farm, calls it a “David and Goliath story.” He says the London-based numbered company that owns the property wants to extract sand and gravel for its London business, and that the company won’t be employing local people or using the material for projects here.
Located about a five-minute drive southwest of downtown St. Marys along the south bank of the Thames River, the area is known locally as “Transvaal.” The proposed pit is at the north end of Perth South Road 127 and can only be accessed now by an unopened township road.
Residents of the area held a meeting Nov. 24 to organize a citizens’ action group. We’re calling ourselves Friends of Transvaal. or FOT for short.
We don’t oppose all pits, but we do oppose this one. It’s on a flood plain along the Thames River in an wholly agricultural and recreational area. There is a lot of concern.
The Thames Valley Trail that stretches from St. Marys all the way to London meanders through many of the landowners fields, including the one owned by the London company.
While Kitchener-based agent for the company, Bill Bradshaw, told a public meeting in October that the pit owners plan to work with the Trail people to ensure continued access, we are not convinced this will be possible.
One local farmer, Howard Bradley, whose farm adjoins the land owned by the pit, says the area floods sometimes without warning. He’s worried that if excavators dig down to below the level of the river, much of the area might just wash away.
And Todd Sleeper of the Friends of the Thames River noted at a Perth South township council meeting on Nov. 20 that the proposed pit could compromise “Lemonade Springs,” located just off shore of the land for the proposed pit at a spot in the river where water bubbles up and was once a settlers’ crossing. Sleeper calls it “a unique spot . . . I’ve been along there and had hikers come up to me and ask me where the springs are. And because the water never freezes there, it’s a watering hole for animals year ‘round.”
At present, the community group FOT is in a holding pattern.
In order for the pit to gain a license to extract aggregate, Perth County Council has to agree to amend the county plan, and the Township has to agree to rezone the land from agricultural to aggregate, according to the Ontario Planning Act.
Both Councils have held public meetings and asked for input on the application. A number of documents have been filed with both Councils and with the Ministry of Natural Resources (MNR). The MNR, the MOE (Ministry of the Environment), the Upper Thames Conservation Authority and local residents have all written to express their reservations.
These documents can be found online at https://perthsouth.civicweb.net/Documents/DocumentList.aspx?ID=2251.
County Council and the Township Council have deferred decisions on amending the plan and rezoning pending the answers the company must provide. But we hope that the people of St. Marys realize what’s at risk here. We hope they will express support for us and stand up for small rural farming communities like ours.
In the wake of the public outcry about the mega quarry, once slated for north of Orangeville, the mining company withdrew its application. That was proof that communities can speak out against this. We can make a difference.
The group has a website and can be contacted there at www.fotsaintmarys.com.
Romayne Smith Fullerton