Ontario has an insatiable thirst for residential, commercial and industrial development. Down- town populations grew at twice the pace from 2016 to 2021. When speaking of issues related to growth such as gentrification, landlessness and displacement, The environmental price tag costs us valuable land as well as the health and safety of the public. Our society is fascinated with the notion of building— whether it be population, roads, buildings and other forms of infrastructure development. But building requires resources.

While driving down Snyder’s Rd. E. in Petersburg lawn signs scour the sides of the road with the words “Stop New Sand Pit.” The township once again finds itself in a fight against a proposed gravel pit. Although the residents and businesses have their reasons and their concerns, decision

to completely block the pit ultimately lies on the Wilmot city council.

Smaller municipalities often bear the burden for resources required to build. Petersburg is a small township which is 10 kilometres west of downtown Kitchener. They are all too familiar with environ- mental disruption in their community as there are six gravel pits situated near the township. The Pe- tersburg Sand Company (PSC) is now requesting to change the zoning classification for a seventh pit.

The PSC wishes to change 27.54 hectares of land on 1856 Snyder’s Road East, Petersburg from its current classification in Zone A1, agricultural zone, and rezone it to Zone 14, extractive industrial zone, for a gravel pit for recycling concrete and asphalt. Residents of Petersburg voiced their concerns in a town hall meeting and are urging Wilmot township to block this request by the PSC but a firm decision has yet to be made.

This situation exists in both regional and provincial contexts. Mike Hodgkinson of PSC, a Petersburg resident himself, sees mostly but benefits. The production of over 450,000 tons of aggregate annually will surely be beneficial for his business and at a rate of 12.9 cents a ton, the township will be making close to $60,000 yearly from hosting the gravel pit. From a joint study conducted by the IBI Group it was concluded that there are no risks of noise pollution from trucks or machinery, traffic from trucks will be minimal, dust won’t impact air quality, the water table beneath the pit will not be affected, there is not threat to any archaeological cultural artifacts.

The PSC argues that: “Close-to-market aggregates significantly reduces environmental and economic impacts.”

On the other hand, Petersburg residents are concerned about this request. There are worries that traffic becoming increasingly prevalent may jeopardize road safety. The possibility of nosebleeds, lung issues, eye and skin irritation from the dust produced by the pit is a real threat to the community’s health.

There is a possibility that there will also be a blow to the property value of the land due to property value dropping by 25 per cent in houses located within one kilometre of a quarry or gravel pit. Many residents of the township have proudly resided in their homes for decades, but the proposed pit is raising concern for homeowners in regards to their property value. The potential for noise pollution due to these facilities is another concern by the residents, as they are worried it will decrease the tranquility of this quiet town. Drinking water could potentially be contaminated if there is any breach to the water table.

Perhaps most detrimental impacts would be on the land, which may become unproductive as a result of compaction, low moisture holding ability, and low organic matter will affect the crop of neighbouring farmers. According to the IBI study, the Agricultural Impact Assessment (AIA) concluded that the area surrounding the proposed gravel pit consists of a variety of land uses, including

82.5 per cent common field crop such as corn and soybean, 10.78 per cent scrubland and 6.7 per cent woodland. Thus, these lands are the livelihoods of many. This isn’t a cut and dry situation where the PSC intends to work in isolated or secluded land, but the pit is proposed to be within a kilometre of the town’s church and within two kilometres of residential neighbourhoods.

The people of Wilmot are tired and it seems like every couple of years there are requests by busi- nesses to start digging. As recently as April 2022 the Wilmot council blocked a request to rezone agricultural lands Jackson Harvest Farms, and they are now petitioning for city council to reject the request made by PSC, as it is usually their concerns versus the lack of considerations by Grand River Conservation Authority and the Region of Waterloo as they do not object to the rezoning proposals.

Modern environmentally conscious trends are a double edged sword and many don’t realize that although their intention might be in the right place, their actions aren’t. Corporations are continuing to push a “sustainable” agenda but many sustainable alternatives are more damaging to the environment than their predecessors. A proposed

gravel pit in New Hamburg called the “Hallman Pit” was recently approved by the Wilmot council even though the Wilmot council unanimously voted against the gravel pit last year. In February, residents of Wilmot hosted an emergency council meeting as they were blindsided by Wilmot council. The Township’s council was supposed to accompany Citizens for Safe Groundwater to the Ontario Land Tribunal but has since gone silent in regard to answering for their betrayal of their residents.

Mike Balkwill of the Reform Gravel Mining Coalition stated “This is one more obstacle for community groups in what is already a David and Goliath struggle.”

The two primary concerns regarding the Hallman Pit approval, include the lack of public opinion or public consultation on the approval process. The council strangely did not contact any environment activist groups nor did they comment on their decision, rather the activist heard through their legal counsel. Another concern is that there is faulty legislation regarding these zoning changes and land tribunals as the Township councillors have stated that Bill 23, “More Homes Built Faster Act” allows for unsuccessful parties to foot the bill for successful parties. Although the approval might have been a budgetary precaution that the Wilmot Township council was taking, it is an insult to the efforts of Wilmot residents who have been fighting this battle for years.

Overall, the request made by the PSC and the concerns voiced by the residents of Petersburg are both valid and it adds to the conversations regard- ing housing, development and the environment of Ontario. The destruction of the Greenbelt and the gentrification in urban areas is raising eyebrows but there is little focus on the environmental impacts or general effects on smaller townships across the province who are also victims of our hunger for development. More housing, especial- ly affordable housing, is strongly and rightfully desired by Ontarians but just outside of growing urban areas is where the destruction occurs. So before we think our “sustainable” cities and lifestyles are victimless and innocent, let’s remember the struggles of those in townships like Petersburg, let us realize that ignorance is not bliss.