Two families, one from Toronto and the other from Barrie, who moved to the same street in Powassan within weeks of one another want town council to address the massive dust and noise issue created by dump trucks working for a local contracting company.
Each weekday, the trucks come off Highway 11 onto McCharles Line and kick up dust on the gravel road as they make their way to the Evan Hughes Excavating gravel pit off Oakwood Road.
Todd McGowan, a police officer from Toronto who is in the process of retiring, told town council the trucks come and go using the same route.
McGowan lives at 77 McCharles Line and moved into the home a few weeks after his neighbour across the street, Nicole Longworth, moved into 80 McCharles Line.
Both appeared at Powassan's Sept. 21 council meeting pleading for help.
Longworth told council she didn't know about the gravel pit not far from her property because under COVID restrictions, homes could only be viewed during weekends and the pit is closed Saturdays and Sundays.
It didn't take long for Longworth to learn about the pit once she and her husband moved in in August and the dump trucks rumbled back and forth on McCharles Line. “The dust is unbelievable,” Longworth said, adding she bought an air conditioner so she could keep the windows closed.
“But the dust is still coming in,” she said.
Longworth said the exterior of her home is regularly covered in dust and even though she gives it a good cleaning, it's back in two to three days.
Longworth said the dust and noise issues aside, she finds the people of Powassan amazing and is regularly greeted with hellos, something she said barely happened in Barrie.
She added her complaint should not be construed as anything negative toward the excavating company and she fully understood that Hughes “has a right to make a living.”
But Longworth told council that had she known about the pit, she “never would have bought the house.”
'IT'S OUR JOB AS A COUNCIL TO FIND A SOLUTION'
McGowan also objected to the dust but said the noise from the dump trucks was equally an issue.
He agreed Hughes “has to run a business, but something has to be done to quiet down the noise.”
McGowan agreed it could be his own fault for not asking what lay beyond the McCharles Line homes, but said “I never thought to ask.”
McCharles Line isn't the only road off Highway 11 that connects to Oakwood Road.
To the north, Peever Line also comes off the highway and connects to Oakwood.
But McGowan told council using McCharles is easier for the truck drivers because they don't have to navigate a steep hill on Oakwood if they enter from Peever Line when coming off Highway 11.
McGowan also said to the credit of the truck drivers they try to be quiet, “but they are dump trucks and they are loud,” especially as they round the corner onto Oakwood and their tires cause vibrations.
Coun. Randy Hall sided with Longworth and McGowan on the issue and told his colleagues, “I feel the onus falls on this council that we find a solution.”
Hall reminded council of Powassan's slogan, 'The Heart of Good Living,' adding it's a community that offers a quality of life that's rarely found elsewhere.
“It's our job as a council to find a solution,” Hall said.
“It's not up to Mr. Hughes to change his business practices.”
Hall also emphasized that nothing negative was being said about Hughes Excavating.
“Mr. Hughes is a great employer for the community, a taxpayer and business owner,” he said.
Hall said the Longworths and McGowans “face an extreme situation that this municipality is responsible for,” and if council has to incur a cost to resolve it, so be it.
He said the day he met Longworth and McGowan was at their properties with his black pickup.
“About 12 trucks went through and my truck was no longer black,” Hall said.
“It had a layer of sediment.”
Coun. Markus Wand briefly weighed in on the issue and said as a taxpayer, Evan Hughes Excavating has the right to use a road that's available to it.
The pit is close to Highway 11 and Longworth asked if it was possible to build a roadway from the pit that connects to Highway 11.
Coun. Dave Britton characterized the challenge of creating another entrance off Highway 11 as something that “would be almost past difficult” for several reasons, adding it would be tough getting a Ministry of Transportation permit.
COMMUNITY'S DUST ISSUE REQUIRES 'WIDER LENS'
Mayor Peter McIsaac said a “road at municipal expense is not even a starter” because of the enormous expense.
He said the road would have to cross someone else's private property, meaning the municipality would have to expropriate land.
He also said the municipality would never get the go ahead from the Ministry of Transportation to build a road onto a controlled access highway, considering the request is coming at a time when the ministry is “shutting down controlled accesses.”
“I don't think that's a possibility,” McIsaac said.
McIsaac also said the issue of dust on gravel roads isn't isolated to only McCharles and Oakwood, saying, “It's an issue for all rural roads.”
“I think we should remove the business from the conversation and just say we have a dust issue in the community,” McIsaac said.
In response to a suggestion from Coun. Debbie Piekarski to apply more calcium on McCharles to keep the dust down, McIsaac said calcium would need to be applied “to every rural road in the community where there is a dust issue.”
“It's $80,000 every time we do an application of calcium in the community,” he said.
“Council needs to consider that before it makes a commitment.”
Paving McCharles Line also was rejected as an expensive process, with the heavy trucks expected to chew up the road in a short period of time.
“I'm not closing the door on exploring solutions,” McIsaac said.
“But the ones that have come up here, I don't see them working. Maybe we need to come up with alternative ways to (do) dust control in the entire community and not just focus on that one intersection. I understand you're upset, but we need to look at this with a wider lens than just that one area.”
With the gravel pit season starting to wind down, McIsaac suggested possibly having a water truck hit the roadway next spring on certain days to help control the dust.
Although the mayor's idea wasn't turned down, McGowan believed McIsaac was addressing only part of the issue.
“You're easily dismissing that there are several thousand-pound trucks with six wheels taking the corner and tearing up the road,” McGowan said.
He added that the dust was the result of the ongoing pit-related operation.
Hall agreed and repeated that the McGowans and Longworths faced “an extreme situation” that is connected to the pit and, again, repeated his position that it's an issue the municipality must resolve.
At the suggestion of Britton, he said perhaps council should talk to its engineer for possible solutions to the McCharles Line issue.
Rocco Frangione is a Local Journalism Initiative reporter who works out of the North Bay Nugget. The Local Journalism Initiative is funded by the Government of Canada.
Rocco Frangione, Local Journalism Initiative, The North Bay Nugget