City Announces Potential Agreement to Close Dolime, Make it Guelph, and Develop It

After decades of controversy, and years of legal wrangling, the City of Guelph announced this morning that the Dolime Quarry will qclose, be absorbed into Guelph’s municipal boundaries and turned into a new residential neighbourhood. All this, of course, pending positive community feedback, plus council and provincial approvals.

Mayor Cam Guthrie and members of senior city staff announced this morning a direction for the Dolime quarry that will allow the City of Guelph to safeguard water resources, and, if successful, will shut down the quarry a few decades early and remediate it.

“For many years, city staff have talked publicly about concerns that quarry operations could affect both the quality and the quantity of Guelph’s drinking water,” Guthrie explained. “During my time as mayor, city officials, provincial representatives and the quarry owners have been working together through a mediator to find a way forward.

“It has been a long road, but I am pleased to announce today that we have reached a potential solution with the Dolime quarry operator,” Guthrie announced.

The plan is simple, the area of the Dolime quarry, which is along the Speed River just west of the Hanlon Expressway between Wellington Road West and College Avenue West, will be annexed into the City of Guelph. The current land owner, River Valley Developments, a subsidiary of Carson Reid Holdings Ltd., will hold on to the property, but the jurisdiction will be transferred from the Township of Guelph-Eramosa to the City of Guelph.

After that, the City will work with the Province of Ontario to study how the area will fit in with the City’s growth plan, and what studies and processes they need to start the process of rezoning, and remediating the quarry.

Additionally, the City will build on-site water management systems, and take full authority of all water issues in the quarry area. The final part of the plan will be to move forward with a new residential development, or perhaps some kind of mixed-use development, on the quarry site.

“My perspective is that this is a very positive solution for everyone, especially around the protection and safety of our water, both now and in the future,” said Guthrie after the announcement. “I’m really pleased with how we’ve arrived at this solution today.”

How Did We Get Here?

The operations at the Dolime quarry have been of concern for the City of Guelph for nearly 20 years.

In 2002, the City’s investigations of water quality following the introduction of Ontario’s Safe Water Drinking Act discovered that the City’s various wells and aquifers, as well as the aquafir under the quarry, were all connected, meaning that contamination at the quarry could affect the rest of Guelph’s ground water in part, or in whole.

Things got more serious in 2008 when City staff discovered that digging at the quarry had reached the aquitard, a dense layer of rock that protects the main aquifer deep underground.

“What we’re concerned about is that when the quarry fills with water it could go through the aquitard, and mix with our groundwater possibly bringing bacteria with it, and we want to make sure that doesn’t happen,” explained Jennifer Rose, general manager of Environmental Services with the City.

“It’s important to note that these quarrying activities were all legal and permitted,” added Deputy Chief Administrative Office Kealy Dedman. “Since then, the City has been working to address concerns about how quarrying operations could affect our drinking water, and this is a challenge that stretches across municipal boundaries.”

In 2013, the City sought a leave to appeal River Valley’s permit to take water, and it was granted in 2014. Since then, the City, the Township, and River Valley, who have owned Dolime since 2004, have been in mediation. Staff peg the cost of mediation to the City of Guelph at $1.69 million.

Seriously, What Do You Think?

Neither City staff nor the representatives of River Valley present at today’s announcement could put a timeline to either the closure of the quarry or when the 230-acre property will be absorbed by the City. The priority right now, it seems, is getting public feedback about the deal before it gets too far down the proverbial tracks.

“We’re telling everyone what the proposed solution is, council wants to make sure that we get everyone’s feedback on this proposed solution, and those things are obviously important to council and important to me, as we move forward in the next steps,” Guthrie said.

The City is immediately launching “Our Community, Our Water,” a public information campaign to inform citizens about the proposed solution, and to get their feedback on it. The first open house on this will be held on October 29 at City Hall with two sessions, one from 2 to 4 pm and another from 6 to 8 pm; a second open house session will be announced for sometime in late November.

People will also be able to engage online through the City’s website, and the Have Your Say page. City Council will receive a full report with the results of the feedback, the financial impacts, and the technical and planning directions sometime in early 2020.

The Questions

Timelines weren’t the only point of interest unidentified in Tuesday morning’s presentation.

Both Guthrie and City of Guelph staff confirmed that there will be no cost to annexing the quarry land to Guelph’s municipal border, and that there will be no compensation on the part of the City to River Valley Developments for closing the quarry early.

Still, closing the quarry early could mean a loss of substantial revenues for River Valley. General manager Bob Baxter told the media that there’s still about 15 to 30 years of life left in the quarry. “We originally had full intentions to quarry it out, as a quarry operator, it’s a viable business,” Baxter said.

“How many times have we heard anywhere that there’s a quarry that’s willing to be shut down early, and then it will protect the water supply of the community that is in need of it?” Guthrie asked rhetorically. “I mean that, in itself, is not a common thing to hear.”

River Valley alone will be taking on the cost of remediation, according to Baxter. “That that would be our cost to do it, and the City is going to get control of the water,” he added.

What kind of profit might River Valley make once the land is ready to develop? Baxter tried to downplay that. “There’s lots of green space along the river, and there’s lots of other green space that just not suitable for development and neighborhood use,” he said, adding that the exact costs for remediation and the exact amount of the property that will be developed is still unknown.

Underline: “Protect our Drinking Water”

The message of Tuesday presentation from all quarters was that this agreement is a big win in the name of protecting Guelph’s water supplies.

“The Dolime quarry uses 11 billion million litres of water per day. This water is removed from the quarry and diverted, and we could use that water in the future for our drinking water needs,” said Rose. “We need to build a system to protect our drinking water.”

“We jointly retained some of the leading experts in hydro-geology and their joint solution, and expert opinion, is that this a good solution for safe drinking water for the City of Guelph, and create the opportunity to provide a significant additional quantity of water for use and growth down the road,” said Baxter.

Guelph MPP Mike Schreiner, who has been a part of the campaign to protect Guelph’s drinking water by closing the quarry for some time, is also pleased with the proposal, and was in attendance for the announcement.

“Seeing this through to completion is going to be really important, and I’m going to be playing a supporting role in doing that,” said Schreiner. “I will be more than happy to give this issue up because that means Guelph’s water is protected, and at the end of the day, that’s what this is really about.”

“I think the City’s done really good work to get us to this point, and I compliment the mayor, city council and city staff ,” Schreiner added. “This is a complex issue, and it’s been a contentious issue for a long time, and to get us to this point, I think, is a real accomplishment.”

“I think it’s going to be a very good thing,” Guthrie explained adding that there’s other benefits to closing the quarry.

“Yes, it’s is  about our water for sure, but there have been complaints over the years of the the blasting, and the disruption to the neighbourhood that surrounds around the quarry,” Guthrie added. “The fact that it will be stopped, and that it won’t happen anymore, that’s another added benefit to having the quarry shut down.”

CORRECTION: The Dolime quarry actually only uses 11 million litres of water per day as opposed to the 11 billion litres number that was originally quoted.

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