Concerns raised about operation’s impact on air quality, Howe Sound aquatic environment

MAY 25, 2012

JEREMY SHEPHERD
SPECIAL TO THE CHIEF

The proposed gravel mine on McNab Creek was met with boisterous opposition from approximately 150 residents who crammed into a yoga studio at Eagleridge Community Centre in Horseshoe Bay to hear details about the project on Wednesday (May 23).

If approved, the mine — which would be 22 kilometres southwest of Squamish and eight km north of Port Mellon — would include a pit and a processing plant on 87 of the 320 hectares purchased by Burnco Rock Products in 2008. The mine would produce approximately one million tonnes of gravel a year for the next 20 years, according to company representatives.

Residents, some of whom called for the company to pack up and get out of town, cited air quality concerns and the threat to the newly rejuvenated Howe Sound marine life as their chief objections.

“It’s only been in the last year or 18 months that we’ve seen dolphins in Howe Sound,” said Patrick Yearwood, a lawyer who owns property just south of the project.

The mine, which would employ 12 full-time workers, including one or two caretakers, would likely be operational for 300 days a year, according to Derek Holmes, a regional manager with Burnco Rock Products.

Despite plans to operate daily from 7 a.m. to 5 p.m., Holmes did not rule out the possibility of drastically increasing productivity.

“We don’t anticipate operating 24 hours a day,” Holmes said. “The market will determine how much material is coming out of there.”

Asked if the mine would operate 24 hours a day, Holmes said: “We’d like to.”

“I think that’s when the temperature in the room went up 20 degrees,” said Jeff Gau, a spokesman for the Future of Howe Sound Society, one of the groups that has been granted funding to help it take part in the federal environmental assessment process for the project.

Because of potential impacts on air quality and aquatic life, the mine would pose an economic risk, according to Gau.

“That’s not a lot of revenue and that’s not a lot of jobs and the equation doesn’t make sense,” Gau said of Burnco’s projections. “The cost to B.C. tourism could be absolutely humongous.”

Responding to numerous calls to find another location for the mine, Holmes explained the importance of using Howe Sound as a base of operations.

“The market is Greater Vancouver and the Lower Mainland,” he said. “(The mine) has to be close to the source that it’s used.”

The notion of replacing a spawning channel with a new channel on the western side a small lake also drew the ire of many in attendance.

“The pit is proposed right where the spawning channel is,” Holmes said. “It’s our feeling, and certainly that of the DFO (Department of Fisheries and Oceans), that a lot better could be done on that site.”

Compromised air quality from heavy dust from the operation was also a concern.

“A good proportion of the extraction process is wet anyway, and that’s going to reduce dust,” Holmes said.

The conveyors, which would transport the gravel from the pit to a washing station and then to a barge, would run over trays designed to catch silt and might also be enclosed in pipe to shield the aggregate from winds, he said.

The gravel will also be sprayed with a fine mist at several stages of the process, Holmes said.

Brigitta von Krosigk, a Lions Bay resident who said she lived next to the Brunswick Pit, a gravel mine near the Sea to Sky Highway, disagreed.

“Even if you try to wet it, with the winds… the mist will go one way and the dust will go another,” she said.

Tom McConnell echoed Krosigk’s concern. “It’s going to be impossible for them to mitigate the dust in July and August,” he said. “There’s no water.”

An accident is inevitable, he said. “You’ve got an ocean on one side, a 70-foot-deep lake on the other side and filtered gravel between. How are you going to control the water flow?”

The project is undergoing an environmental assessment and has yet to win the support of officials at the federal Department of Fisheries and Oceans.

A June 2011 letter signed by DFO regional director Susan Farlinger stated the environmental watchdog had “serious concerns” about the mine. “Based on the all the information presently available, the project represents a high risk to salmon and salmon habitat,” she wrote.

“We’ve had follow-up meetings with DFO since that letter,” Holmes said, describing officials’ recent stance toward the project as “cautiously optimistic.”

A DFO spokesperson recently told the Sechelt-based Coast Reporter newspaper that the agency was still involved in the assessment process after having its concerns “satisfied” by reports from the proponent.

Asked about possible community benefits from the mine, company vice-president Kim Titus cited the Calgary company’s history of donating money to help build playgrounds and hockey arenas.

Asked about Burnco president Scott Burns, whom he said may attend future meetings, Titus assured the crowd: “He doesn’t want to screw you people over.”

— With files from Ben Ingram, Coast Reporter