Gravel pit critics get their wish

September 22, 2009

Gravel pits will be the subject of a much sought after pilot project that will examine where aggregate should and should not be mined in the Central Okanagan.

Minister of State for Mining Randy Hawes says he is launching the process in response to persistent lobbying from local governments, which requested a process similar to one which recently concluded in the Fraser Valley.

“I know there has been some push-back in the Okanagan from local government (and) there is friction between some gravel pits and residential developments,” said Hawes.

However, gravel pits are a necessity and must be permitted in appropriate areas within the region, the minister continued.

“If you don’t have aggregate in your area, costs for (infrastructure) will skyrocket to bring it in from outside the region. It is important to the local economy.”

Hawes has appointed Kelowna-Lake Country MLA Norm Letnick to spearhead the Central Okanagan pilot project.

Letnick noted that two-thirds of demand for aggregate is generated by government infrastructure projects, making an affordable supply essential for the creation of roads, bridges and other taxpayer-funded infrastructure.

“It is a matter of making sure we can have a good plan that looks 50 and 100 years down the road at how much aggregate we need, given growth projections, and where the places are to acquire it with the least impact on the population.”

Letnick has appointed Kelowna Coun. Robert Hobson as co-chairman and will work with him to appoint a steering committee made up of government and industry representatives and members of the general public.

If the process is successful in the Central Okanagan, Letnick is hopeful it can be expanded to other parts of the valley.

The pilot project is welcome news for Okanagan Residential Communities Against the Proliferation of Urban Mining Practices, which has also lobbied government for changes to the gravel pit permit process.

ORCAP spokeswoman Heather Larratt said the mining minister’s decision shows that concerned citizens can in fact initiate change.

“I am delighted with this news. It shows government has indeed responded to the concerns of the citizens here.”

ORCAP is not opposed to gravel pits in general. However, it disagrees with quarries being added to existing residential areas because the gravel pits transform neighbourhoods into industrial areas and create noise, dust and other negative impacts, Larratt explained.

Hawes noted that permissible gravel pit areas for the Okanagan region will likely be mapped out as part of the pilot project, as was the case in the Fraser Valley.

“We need to find common ground (and) determine where (quarries) should take place, where they shouldn’t take place and where they could take place with conditions.”

The Fraser Valley system superimposes green on maps, showing where pits are permitted. Red identifies locations where quarries are prohibited and yellow indicates land where aggregate mines may be considered with conditions stipulated on their operation.

The pilot project will have no bearing on existing quarry operations, the minister explained.

Hawes was reluctant to place a deadline on the Okanagan committee’s work, noting the Fraser Valley process took more than five years to complete.

“It was like trying to nail Jell-O to the wall; but, we finally got there.”

When the Fraser Valley project began, local government and gravel pit operators were sworn enemies, Hawes said. The two sides were continually battling in the courts, at a cost of hundreds of thousands of dollars.

“Sometimes local governments won. Sometimes the pit operators won. The loser in all of it was the taxpayer.”

In addition to the Okanagan pilot project, Hawes said his ministry will explore the possibility of similar exploratory processes on Vancouver Island and in the Kootenays.

The mines ministry is also looking at introducing best practices for gravel trucks to address issues like noise, jake braking, tarp use and speeding in residential areas.