The Citizens for Safe Groundwater say a proposed gravel pit they oppose now appears to have the path cleared to dig.

The group of Wilmot Township residents have been fighting the pit for years and held an emergency meeting Sunday.

They say township council has been on their side, but seems to have changed their minds.

"We heard about the decision through our legal counsel," said Rory Farnan of the group. "We were quite blindsided by council's decision."

Citizens believed they would be going to the Ontario Land Tribunal this week with Wilmot council' support, but learned that council has come to a proposed resolution with the land owner.

"I can confirm that it is public information that Wilmot Township is settling with Jackson Harvest Farms re: Hallman Pit," said Wilmot Township Mayor Natasha Salonen. "It is my understanding that currently the terms of settlement are before the OLT and await their approval. As such, it is still a legal matter and commenting right now would be inappropriate."

Farnan says the agreement is concerning since council did so, "behind closed doors without any public consultation or open council meeting."

Jackson Harvest Farms applied four years ago to open a gravel pit on over 50 hectares of land, which would be known as the 'Hallman Pit" on Witmer Road.

In April 2022, Wilmot council voted unanimously against the gravel pit, even though the proposed zoning changed did meet all required provincial and township standards.

The main concern at the time was the plot in question was prime agricultural land.

Councillors at the time told CTV News that requirements were too thin and the province needs to change legislation and bring in stricter guidelines.

One year and one election later, and a different decision appears to have been made.

"There are still questions circling about how this has happened without an opportunity for public engagement," said Lernout.

Under Bill 23, The "More Homes Built Faster Act", the group believes a rule change may have played a part in the change of decision.

They point to a rule that reads the tribunal gets the "power to order an unsuccessful party to pay a successful party's cost."

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

The Ontario Land Tribunal is set to review the application at a virtual meeting on Wednesday.

"We will be working with our legal team and coming up with a plan," said Farnan. "Our expert reports remain unresolved, so one way or another we will be moving forward."

The Citizens for Safe Groundwater plan to voice their concerns with Wilmot council at the next meeting on March 6.