Nestled north of the Wilno Hills, the hamlet of German Settlement is cloistered in a pastoral setting and dominated by a stone church. The Wilno uplands comprise of woodlots, hunt camps and the arts community. The surrounding valley is made up of hay fields, cattle raising, and hobby farms. Tourism also plays a dominant role with the introduction of the Wolf Ridge Golf Course 20 years ago fronting Hwy.60. Above: photo montage of the Stone Church and Homestead at Wolf Ridge. Submitted.
But revealed from their sanctuary up high, the Northern Ravens riding the valley updrafts see a different picture. Within a couple of months everyone living in this peaceful valley could share this same unsettling new vision.
They came. They hauled. They conquered.
It’s an economic reality along the Ottawa Valley Hwy.60 tourism corridor that aggregate extraction pits are booming. In Barry’s Bay, in the Village of Wilno, as well as on roads north of the highway, pits are emerging with little or no consideration for the impacts on aesthetics or noise. Some are grandfathered, others require a new licence. The Ben Hokum and Son Ltd. excavation pit expansion meets the second criteria.
Hokums, the region’s major employer at their sawmill on Golden Lake, is in the last stages of activating a commercial 53-hectare aggregate pit. The noise is expected to impact the whole valley. Situated 200 metres north of the Wolf Ridge Golf Course, there are currently no mitigation measures proposed to reduce the noise of extraction, crushing, processing and truck hauling off Old Trestle Road. At present the industrial site is thinly veiled from Hwy.60 by a red pine plantation planned for future harvest. The pit licence application also involves the importation of materials for commercial purposes. Aggregate deposits are predicted to last 115 years at an annual extraction rate of 20,000 tonnes. The licence permits operations between 7:00 am and 7:00 pm six days a week. The five phase extraction profile will extend several decades and impact current and future generations moving into the valley. Moreover, nothing prevents the company increasing the annual quota by applying for a revised licence as the market expands.
Stone Church and Mountain View Roads were cleared of trees, “brushed”, ditched and widened over the past two years to accommodate increased truck traffic. This bypass avoids the alternative route requiring industrial vehicles from negotiating the narrow turns within Killaloe itself.
Glacial deposits of sand and gravel within the Precambrian shield, and the demand for infrastructure and home construction have triggered the opening of dormant pits in Eastern Ontario and beyond. However, the vast majority of these pits have been granted with requirements for adequate setbacks, visual screening and, most importantly, berms to accommodate surrounding land uses, most of which are recreational or residential. Because of the scarcity of homes immediately touching the pit along Old Trestle Road these requirements have been forfeited except for three immediate homes. Currently the site plan is limited to a meagre 30m road setback.
Despite fulfilling the statutory requirements with environmental, hydrological and archeological studies, no measures have been proposed in the Hokums application to the Ministry of Natural Resources and Forestry to reduce the pit’s noise and visual impacts. It’s a major oversight which can be easily corrected by extending the Old Trestle Road setback from 30m to 100m and building a berm that is 10m to 30m high parallel to the same road west from the pit’s main entrance for another 300m. No inconvenience, cost or magic wand required.
The same mitigation measures to attenuate noise, unsightly industrial activity, and dust are applied almost universally throughout most of Southeastern Ontario. The question remains why their implementation at the Hokums pit remains absent? The change might be just sufficient to prevent the public objecting to the whole project both now or in the future.
Express your opinion by Jan.7 2024
Members of the public may direct enquiries or express their objection to the project or its current configuration to the Ministry of Natural Resources and Forestry until January 7, 2024 via email to ARAApprovals@ontario.ca with subject line Re Licence Application #626619 and copy to Dean Felhaber at Ben Hokum and Son via email to firstname.lastname@example.org
About the author: Christopher Huggett is a retired conservation biologist living in Killaloe Hagarty Richards.