Letter: You think gravel mining’s a problem now? Just wait and see what the government has planned next…

Hi David,

I read your article Does Revelstoke REALLY need a 120-acre gravel pit? I think not.  Good stuff.

Although I live in Abbotsford, the controversial issues around the unacceptable gravel mining permitting process and unacceptable gravel mining practices are remarkably similar across BC’s communities…just the names change (for example I think you might know the good people in Kelowna who work under the acronym ORCAP, link: http://www.orcap.org/ ; see also Abbotsford Today, Chilliwack Today, The Common Sense Canadian etc).

The government’s response to the resulting community conflicts was to initiate the Aggregate Pilot Project.  That document is fundamentally flawed and for that reason critics have been struggling to stop it.  Yesterday, the Electoral Area Services Committee of the Fraser Valley Regional District voted to move the Aggregate Pilot Project to the Community Consultation phase.  That vote, if ratified, by the FVRD Board  on June 22/10 will essentially enshrine the Aggregate Pilot Project and its flawed contents will become policy.

The reason that matters to all BC communities is because of the fact that the Honourable Randy Hawes, Minster of State for Mining, plans to roll out that Aggregate Pilot Project across the province in the very near future.

FYI:  I’ve enclosed the most recent correspondence with Patricia Ross (Fraser Valley Regional District Chair) as well as a “Backgrounder” to a recent gravel mine permit application in the Chilliwack River Valley.

Please let me know if there’s anything I can do to help your community’s fight.  A lot of BC communities have worked hard at exposing the governments dysfunctional approach to the gravel mine permit process and the resulting harmful impacts.

Best regards,

Walter Neufeld

—–Original Message—–
From: wALTER [mailto:highview@telusplanet.net] 
Sent: June 8, 2010 10:06 AM
To: Patricia Ross (Chair FVRD); Patricia Ross (patiross@shaw.ca)
Cc: BC Politicians; BC Community Groups ; BC Newspapers
Subject: CRITICAL VOTE BY ELECTORAL AREA SERVICES COMMITTEE regarding Forwarding Aggregate Pilot Project to the Community Consultation Phase

Dear Patricia Ross (Fraser Valley Regional District Chair),

I’ve just received notice that the Electoral Area Services Committee will be asked to move forward with the Aggregate Pilot Project to the Community Consultation phase tonight (please see Agenda Item #10.9, “Staff Report, Memorandum”,  link: http://www.fvrd.bc.ca/InsidetheFVRD/MeetingsAgendasMinutes/ElectoralAreaServicesCommittee/Agenda%20Documents/Item%2010-09%20Staff%20report%20re%20MEM%20Referral%20-%20Southview%20Sorting%20-%20Larsons%20Bench.pdf) and Agenda Item #10.17 ACTION 10.17.1,   link: http://www.fvrd.bc.ca/InsidetheFVRD/MeetingsAgendasMinutes/ElectoralAreaServicesCommittee/Agenda%20Documents/EASC%202010%2006%2008%20Agenda.pdf ).

Concerned taxpayers have for many months expressed their grave concerns about the fundamental flaws designed into the current Aggregate Pilot Project (APP).  The APP’s primary purpose was to resolve the persistent conflicts caused by arbitrary gravel mining practices sanctioned by the Mines Act.  The APP does not redress the cause nor the effect of the many negative impacts foisted on BC’s environment and BC’s communities.

The current APP draft fails to protect BC communities from the well known negative impacts of gravel mining practices.  The current APP draft likewise fails to provide remedies for those negative impacts.  The current APP draft will fail to bring peace to the gravel mining process because the concerns of adversely affected constituents have not been addressed.

The Electoral Area Services Committee’s historic decision today will impact communities across BC for decades to come because the MEM’s intends to “roll out” the APP across the province.  On behalf of adversely affected constituents, we respectfully ask the Electoral Area Services Committee to:

1.                        not approve the Aggregate Pilot Project in its current draft and,

2.                        restart the APP process but with adversely affected constituent stakeholders participation and,

3.                        undertake a comprehensive study of the negative impacts caused by gravel mining practices in BC communities and,

4.                        provide remedies that compressively address the negative impacts as well as providing process whereby costs would be recovered for those negative impacts.

The most recent gravel extraction permit application at Larson’s Bench off the Chilliwack Lake Road illustrates the point.  The MEM has dismissed all concerns and objections posed by the FVRD and likewise has ignored all concerns expressed by constituent stakeholders (see Agenda Item #10.9, “Staff Report, Memorandum).   The current form of the APP does not redress that processes shortcomings.  Four of the APP’s most significant flaws are outlined below:

  1. adversely affected constituent stakeholders were not included in the process of drafting the APP and,
  2. the current APP document fails to remedy the source and/or affects of those conflicts and,
  3. the APP document has failed to provide a comprehensive study of the conflicts and the source of the community/constituent conflicts and,
  4. the APP document fails to provide remedies for negative community impacts caused by permitted gravel mining practices.  The list of negative impacts are so well known that the provincial government has listed some of them in its “Report Of The Aggregate Advisory Panel, 2001”.  Negative impacts like, “…public concerns about noise, dust, truck traffic and impacts on water, fish and wildlife habitat, property values, viewscapes and lifestyles”, and again “…property values, viewscapes and lifestyles…” and the need for recovering, “…costs of mitigating negative impacts on the Community…”

“RECEIPT 10.9 Ministry of Energy, Mines and Petroleum Resources Referral: Notice of Work and Reclamation Program (Southview Sorting Ltd) – in the Vicinity of Larsons Bench, Chilliwack River Valley, Electoral Area E – Response from Ministry of Mines

RECOMMEND THAT the Fraser Valley Regional District Board receive the comments from the Ministry of Mines in response to the FVRD’s recommendations from the staff report dated January 25, 2010.

• Staff report dated 2010 05 31 from Hugh Sloan, Director of Planning

and Sarah Ross, Planner I

10.17 Addenda Items – Planning & Building Matters

ACTION 10.17.1 Aggregate Pilot Project – Community Consultation

RECOMMEND THAT the Fraser Valley Regional District Board receive the staff report dated June 3, 2010 with respect to community consultation on the Aggregate Pilot Project Recommendations Report;

AND THAT the Board authorize the holding of community meetings generally as described in the staff report dated June 3, 2010 to obtain input from electoral area residents regarding the recommendation of the Aggregate Pilot Project.

• Staff report dated 2010 06 03 from”

Respectfully submitted,

Walter Neufeld



Backgrounder: Larson’s Bench Gravel Permit Application in the Chilliwack River Valley

What does it take to stop the Minister of State for Mining from lying to BC constituents?  The answer, it seems, is that he will not be stopped.  Our friends in the Chilliwack River Valley are Randy Hawes latest victims.  The Ministry of Mines (MoM) is in the process of approving another contentious gravel mine, and this one’s in their Valley.  They are in the process of finding out what many BC communities already know about Hawes.

During a recent CBC radio interview (May 14/10), spokesperson Glen Thompson began by outlining a variety of legitimate community concerns regarding the gravel mine’s foreseeable negative impact on a valley that is environmentally sensitive and an important tourist destination.  He went on to express his concerns about the lack of public input and the traffic snarl that would be caused by return trip gravel trucks choking a roadway with single lane traffic each way.  Hawes rebutted by first dismissing the community’s concerns about the mine’s size.  He assured listeners that the mine would remove less than 750,000 tonnes per year and the total disturbance would only be 25 hectares, not the 40 permitted hectares.    What Hawes was really saying was that the mine would not trigger an Environmental Assessment Review.  The way gravel miners accomplish that feat is by taking out an initial “small” permit which is followed by consecutive-creeping-expansion-permits that, individually, all stay under the “trigger” threshold even though the overall mine size might be many times the size required to trigger an Environmental Assessment.  Got that?

When you check the provincial Environmental Assessment Office‘s website, it reports that of all the gravel mines permitted in BC between 1995-2008, only 6 gravel mines in all BC were required to go for review and of those 6, only 4 had been Certified by 2008.    That seems to indicate that no comprehensive “reviews” were required for the majority of gravel mines approved during that same time period.   What exactly does it take to trigger Environmental Assessment Review.  To put in perspective the magnitude of this “loop hole”, we need find out whether one of the largest gravel mines in BC triggered an Environmental Assessment.   Mainland Sand and Gravel’s mine at Cox Station, Sumas Mountain north, is the third largest gravel mine in BC by volume and possibly the first or second largest for landscape disturbance but, according the Ministry of Environment, it has not triggered an Environmental Review in-spite-of the fact that  Sumas Mountain is home to a variety of documented red lettered species.

“The intent of the environmental assessment process is to identify any foreseeable adverse impacts through the project’s life-cycle including construction, start up, operation and shut-down, and to determine ways to eliminate, minimize, mitigate or compensate impacts. The process identifies the potential effects of the project on community values and provides information on the nature of public support for a project.”

Any wonder BC constituents are becoming more and more cynical about the politicians who govern them?  Not surprising that so many constituents are enraged by the politicians’ deflowering of the Ministry of the Environment and the Agricultural Land Reserve.  These administrative institutions were tasked with protecting BC’s environmental heritage; they were not tasked to act as shills for corporate interests.

Secondly, Hawes claimed that all aspects of the permit would by scrutinized by a multi-disciplinary review.  Really?  Where’s the science?  Where are the scientific, contrary, reviews?   Not surprisingly, there are no critical, contrary, scientific opinions because the Liberal  government has pursued a course that systematically  sidelines and/or sacks administrative professionals like Marvin Rosenau, Carla Lenihan,  and Bev Anderson (et al, formerly with the Ministry of Water, Land and Air Protection) whose research  findings contradicted the governments misguided strategies  (see 2004 Georgia Straight article “Betting The Farm” by Ben Parfitt http://www.straight.com/article/betting-the-farm). What Hawes does not address is the fact that his Ministry’s reviews are based on pimp science.  BC’s public is deeply concerned when contrary opinions are feared and scientific debates cease to exist; they’re left to conclude that the resulting default decisions are political.

This leads directly to Hawes’ next public misdirection.   He claimed that that he could not/would not interfere in the Chief Mines Inspector’s decision as to whether or not to permit a gravel mine and thereby avoid the slippery slope of abuse.  Really?   “Section 11 of the Mines Act under “Permits – powers of minister,” say otherwise, namely “If the minister considers it to be necessary in the public interest, the minister, in respect of the issuing of permits, has and may exercise all the powers that the chief inspector may exercise under this Act.”   A plain reading of this section clearly applies whenever public/community interests are at issue.  And yet Hawes has persistently misinterpreted the intent of this section of the Act.  It has nothing to do with his morality and/or possible abuse of power.  Hawes’ posturing regarding this issue is seen for what it is, spindly scaffolding meant to keep him out of the reach of “the public interest” being played out on the ground.  It’s the Hawes way of avoiding responsibility.  It’s as plain as that.

At this point in the CBC interview, Hawes has verbally coiled around many of the contentious issues plaguing gravel mine permits and he has progressively choked white the truth in them.  But he’s not quite done.  He assures listeners that the public will have an opportunity to express their concerns at a “public review” and that the office of the Chief Mines Inspector will consider all public input.

This writer has personally attended numerous “public reviews” to which Hawes’ so fondly refers.  I’ve also spoken to many concerned community groups across BC who had attended similar “public reviews” in their own areas.  There is an informal consensus about what happens to the public’s input at those “public reviews”.  Simply put, the “public review” process is a sham; it does not in any meaningful way change the permitting process.  We can find proof that public input is ignored by looking at one simple fact, while the provincial government has made note of some of the unresolved adverse impacts gravel mining has foisted on BC’s environment and communities, it has not undertaken a single comprehensive study which is mandated to identify all adverse impacts and which provides remedies for the same.  What are some of the adverse negative impacts?  The provincial government has highlighted some of them as  “…public concerns about noise, dust, truck traffic and impacts on water, fish and wildlife habitat, property values, viewscapes and lifestyles.” And “…property values, viewscapes and lifestyles…” and the need for recovering, “…costs of mitigating negative impacts on the Community…”  Why has that missing scientific study not been commissioned?

To find the answer to that question, I spoke with an Ombudsperson and was informed that the provincial government is not legally compelled to do anything with the “public’s input”, but, it is compelled to hold “public reviews”.    We get it.  They’re a political exercise only.

Finally, Hawes has noted that if the Aggregate Pilot Project (APP) were in place, it would not permit a mine application in a “red” zone within the Chilliwack River Valley.  What Hawes does not mention is the fact that the APP was strategically designed and written by and for the gravel industry.  It is there to protect their interests only.  The public was not invited to participate in any way.  And yet that is the document Hawes invites the Chilliwack constituents to trust?  Hawes has been repeatedly challenged to show where the public’s interests/concerns are addressed in that document.  To date he’s been unable to find the references in the document that protect public interests: Chilliwack River Valley resident interests.

Hawes critics had previously provided him with alternative procedures which could pave the way to finding solutions to the ongoing unresolved community conflicts.  To date he has not responded.