By David F. Rooney
Like some latter-day Don Quixote, Stuart Andrews is tilting at windmills — in his case the Westside Road gravel pit ultimately owned by a huge French conglomerate.
For four years he has, at his own expense, been doing research on the ills caused by gravel-pit dust, writing letters and lobbying politicians in an attempt to have the pit closed down. But nothing seems to work; even the office of the provincial Ombudsman won’t intercede with government on his behalf.
The latest rejection — this time from the City of Revelstoke — hit him hard.
In a June 27 letter, Chief Administrative Officer Tim Palmer said the City would no longer address the gravel pit issue, that has been kicking up dust since 2010.
“I am running out of patience trying to fight this gravel pit when the goal posts keep changing,” he told The Current. “I am starting to get very stressed about the whole gravel pit issue. It has been a non-ending fight for 4 years with over 800 emails and many phone calls to various government ministries.”
Yet through it all Andrews strives to remain upbeat and optimistic. But how long he can maintain that façade in the face of continued rejection remains to be seen.
Still, he has a few tricks up his sleeve. He thinks health arguments should interest the parents of school-age children. The silica dust raised by the Westside gravel pit — and others — is potentially health-threatening.
So far, the North Columbia Environmental Society is willing to support his efforts — at least as far as sending a letter to the Ministry of Education is concerned.
“I wouldn’t say the NCES is backing his attempts to have the gravel pits closed, but we are concerned about the health and air quality concerns raised when the dust is blown into residential areas,” NCES Vice-president Jody Lownds told The Current.
In an e-mail to Andrews she said the NCES is “generally in support of sending a letter to the Ministry of Education re: the concerns about crystalline silica dust causing health effects in a neighborhood that has an elementary school in it. We would, however, like to hear about these concerns from a parent of a student there or one of the teachers.”
“I hope that concerned parents of children who attend Columbia Park Elementary School will contact the NCES, Andrews said.
And earlier this year he filed mineral claims as a free miner on the Westside Road gravel pit owned by Interoute Construction Ltd., which is owned by Terus Construction, which is owned by Colas Canada, which is in turn ultimately owned by the France-based mega-corporation Colas.
Shortly after he filed his claims in June he received a terse letter from Mark Messmer, director of Mineral Titles Branch and Deputy Chief Gold Commissioner:
“I will be discussing with the Chief Gold Commissioner the possibility of filing a complaint against you as the recorded holder under Section 40(1)(c) of the Mineral Tenure Act. Lastly, I want to formally extend the offer to you that the province will refund your claim staking acquisition costs should you decide that you no longer wish to keep the claims in good standing. This offer is open for the next thirty days.”
So far no action appears to have been taken against Andrews and the offer to refund the money he spent filing the mineral claims has been extended to the end of July. Meanwhile, the gravel pit operation grinds away.
“They started crushing last Monday, the 21st of July, why can’t they do the crushing in the fall when the weather is cooler?” he said. “They said that they would do the crushing in the fall, then they would at least make less dust.”
When Andrews heard a few months ago that Interoute was building weigh scales, a sanitation station, lunchroom and first aid shack at the pit he contacted the Ministry of Energy and Mines but was told those structures “were in the approved notice of work from 2010 which forms a part of their approved permit.” He disputes that — as he does most things associated with the operation — contending that: “The weigh scales were not in their mine permit or licence of occupation they installed them and then got approval after they were completed. Just like when they cleared the trees and top soil in 2010. 7 months before getting their mine permit.”
Everywhere he turns — it seems — Andrews has fewer and fewer avenues of objection.
And his claim to the ‘mineral rights’ at the Westside pit may be the last straw.
“As a free miner I have the right of access to my mineral claim,” he said in an e-mail to The Current. “If my claim is on private land or on Crown land… I have to give 8 days’ notification this I did. I gave notification to Interoute back in May 30. On Tues 15/07/2014 (Tuesday, July 15,) I received a letter from Interoute making it very difficult for me to access my claims. See 5-page letter attached.
“I have been told by Mr. Upper (Andrew Upper, senior advisor for mineral titles) that I should be very careful in continuing my claim as I could be sued for a frivolous and vexatious claim???? As they do not want this case to set a precedence.
“I must be very careful, Diane and I are very concerned that we could lose everything that we have worked our entire lives for!!
“I fear that Interoute with the backing of the Ministry of Energy and Mines are too big for me to fight.”
That may well be true.
But is it over? Not necessarily. Andrews doesn’t strike me as a quitter. But he can use some help. Any one who wishes to support his struggle against the gravel pits that are the major source of dust pollution in Revelstoke should send him an e-mail at firstname.lastname@example.org.