Saturday, April 26, 2014

Proposed gravel pit meets with opposition

View of location of proposed gravel pit north of Lundbreck
Photo from Jeremy and Eleanor Bergen's presentation to MD Council
Chris Davis, Pincher Creek Voice

A public hearing was held at the MD of Pincher Creek council chamber on Tuesday afternoon April 22. The subject of that hearing was a request to rezone land north of Lundbreck to allow for a gravel pit. The response from neighbouring landowners who spoke to council was unanimously against the rezoning. Approximately 27 citizens were in attendance, the largest group to appear before council in recent memory. 11 oral presentations ensued, some of considerable length.

Proposed Bylaw 1247-14 would rezone the land in question from Agricultural - A to Multi-lot Heavy Rural-Industrial.

Reeve Brian Hammond began the proceedings by explaining the basic purpose of the public hearing, and outlined the rules for it.

Planning Advisor Gavin Scott spoke next, asking that presenters be concise and to avoid too much repetition of points raised by those that spoke before them. Scott said Heavy Rural Industrial zoning could have implications beyond the establishment of a gravel pit. "It is part of this process that the council considers not only the gravel pit, but the other uses that are contained within that district, because once the district is acquired those uses will also become available for this property."

"There is some confusion as to what area structure plan this proposal is located in," he continued, explaining the property was actual under the umbrella of two plans, the Burmis Lundbreck corridor area structure plan (click here for that document) and the Oldman River Reservoir Area Structure Plan (ORRASP) (click here for that document). "The proposal will be governed by the policies and rules in it (ORRASP)." He also explained there was an exception for gravel extraction in this plan.

"The application, when it was submitted for the zoning, we used the circulation list that is found within the area structure for the Oldman Dam," Scott continued.  That circulation list included Alberta Environment and Sustainable Resources, Dam Operations, Alberta Agriculture, Infrastructure, Tourism-Parks and Recreation. "What I understand from Roland (Development Officer Roland Milligan) is we received no concern back from those agencies." Apparently the land in question does not fall within ORRASP preservation and natural environment zones.

Applicant speaks

The rezoning applicant Heath Michelson, owner of Southwest Concrete in Lundbreck, spoke to council first. "It's a bad way to meet your neighbours and those around," he said. He told council he grew up in the area, spending summers at Lee Lake. "I've been raised on a farm and acreage all my life. I know the area, I know the beauty of it.  I know the pristine beauty of it all.  Lundbreck is a beautiful place, it has beautiful views, and there's not a better place to live."  He also spoke of his family's various conservation efforts.

"Its's hard to produce concrete without sand and gravel," said Michelson. "The longer the haul the more of a cost there is."

"We find that with the Province, they're hauling gravel out of Lundbreck all the way to Turner Valley, to Edmonton, to High River  for the flood control."

"I do want to work with the town and the neighbors around..."

"I hire people from the area, we service people in the area, we try to do what we can to further the progress in the county and surrounding areas."

"We have to have gravel for roads, we have to have gravel for concrete, we can't do without it."

"There are several other pits to the west of us, in the Burmis - Lundbreck corridor."

"We have to meet spec for concrete. It's not like you can pick any rock or sand and meet spec for concrete."  One of the pits used by Southwest is east of Highway 22, not far from Lundbreck.  Michelson said that pit was almost used up.  "One more crush and it's done.  That resource is going to be exhausted here."  Another pit west of Highway 22 that he/Southwest owns is also inadequate to the purpose, according to Michelson.  "That pit doesn't have any rock in it," but is used for sand.  He said he was currently combining the output of both of those pits to make concrete. "There's two or three other pits to the west," he said.  "They're not that big.  There's no rock in them.  Hasn't been rock in them for years."

"I need the rock and sand."

Michelson supplied council with a map of the property in question, outlining the area he proposes for the gravel pit.

"There's 170 acres in that piece, there's two shelves in that.  The bottom is the wetland area, then it goes up the shelf to the majority of the pit, the majority of the property, which I would guess would be 80, 90  acres, and then there is a ledge on top, which overlooks into that Cottonwood Creek area."

"Where I propose to put the pit is on the top of the first shelf.

"There is a man-made dugout, and there's the wetland.  Beside the dugout, there's a road allowance."

He pointed out where a culvert already exists and said he intends to "Put another culvert down, not to disturb the wetlands.  Build it up there, so I can get through there, to the top of the second shelf."

Michelson said that, like his neighbours, he wants to do minimal environmental damage, "particularly along the river".

"I have no plans to do anything in the bottom of the wetlands."

Michelson said the pit would be "About 400 feet wide, and 1000 feet long, which is a little over 9 acres." He estimates the shelf gravel is 9 to 12 feet deep.

Michelson said he would be running a gravel crusher on-site "Once a year for approximately two to three weeks."

"They run from 7 o'clock in the morning until 7 o'clock at night, usually Monday to Friday."  He said the gravel would then be transported down Township Road 74b to Highway 22, up to a couple of thousand tonnes a day.  "One day does them for three or four weeks. Its not like I'd be hauling every day."  He said washing of the gravel would be done at his other pit west of Highway 22.

"I want to work with the neighbours around and the county to try and make this work,  to have as little pain as possible for everybody."

"I can't see the dust hitting the neighbors because of the prevailing wind," he said, adding that he'd be willing to water the road daily during hauling to minimize dust.

"Long term for that pit, for what I use, and what's used out of there, it's a 20 year pit, 25 year pit."

"We'll try to keep that pit to a 9, 10 acre size."

Michelson said the property would be reclaimed behind the gravel operation, as an ongoing process.

Detractors speak

Russ Thompson

"For the record we are strongly opposed to the proposed rezoning," said Russ Thompson. In addition to himself he was representing his wife and his mother in law, who were both in attendance. Thompson had a slideshow presentation to accompany his remarks. He said he and his wife bought their property in 2007 after looking at the Oldman River Reservoir Area Structure Plan, and referred to the final 2007 version of the plan, referring council to pages 10 and 12. "These uses are compatible with the goals of the area structure plan. A little bit further down, it talks about gravel extraction. It says that there are 10 locations...where gravel occurs.

"This is a use that is not compatible with the area structure plan. Those are not my words, it is the words of whoever put this plan together."

Thompson showed the proximity of his property to the property proposed for rezoning, which is directly west of him, saying the prevailing wind direction meant dust from a gravel pit there would definitely affect him and his family. He said worries about possible future industrial uses of the site if the rezoning is allowed. "Multi-lot heavy rural industrial sounds a bit scary." 
He said he was concerned about possible noise, truck traffic, dust, and fumes associated with gravel extraction, and with the visual, cultural, and environmental impact of a gravel pit in the neighbourhood.

"The proposed pit is going to be visible for a long ways...a very visible scar and a fragmented landscape. If you look at some of the other documentation that's provided, it's going to reduce the historical and cultural value of area, and also detract from it's natural beauty.

"There will be water and vegetation impacts. It could affect our water supply and water quality."
"I've purchased about a thousand dollars of data on this," he said, showing a drainage network map of the area. He averred the pit could disrupt drainages all around it, and also spoke of disruption to the existing wildlife corridor.

"We bought this land in 2007, it is a significant investment. Our intentions were to move my mother-in-law down. She sold her place and moved in with us, at great expense to herself, built a new house on our property. We are enjoying our life, lifestyle as we have it. We are not really willing to have that pass by the side for a commercial development that already exists. There's lots of other opportunities in the local area to get sand and gravel. If they are not right here, they're just a little bit further away. It costs more money granted, but it's not like they're not available. That's our biggest concerns."

Elizabeth Dolman

Elizabeth Dolman said the proposed gravel pit would likely damage a "World-class trout fishing area".

"It's rich with abundant wildlife. I purchased that land because of the views, and because it's so beautiful there. I think it would be hugely, hugely, damaging to take away that beauty. It would leave such a scar."

Shawn Anctil

"I'm the lucky guy who gets to be sandwiched between two large scale gravel pits.." said Shawn Anctil, speaking for himself and his wife Corrina. "It's not just going to affect my wife and I, it's going to affect my four kids.

"This isn't going to be a 9 acre gravel pit. It's going to start off at nine acres, it's an 80 acre script. They're going to continue to mine that from one end to the other. The footprint might be nine acres at any one time, but eventually they're going to dance across the whole thing." 

Anctil reminded council of the MD of Pincher Creek's mission statement, which reads:
The Vision of the Council of the MD of Pincher Creek is a community that manages growth and supports our western heritage while preserving our natural environment. Our Mission is to preserve and enhance our Western Canadian lifestyles and the natural capital of the MD of Pincher Creek through sound decision-making and good governance for the community.
"We're dead against this development, and for valid reasons."

"Somebody give me matches and I'll just burn my house, because it won't be worth anything..."
"When's enough become enough? There's no shortage of gravel in the area, we don't need another pit. That will be the ninth pit within three miles, that's kind of a staggering thought."

"That's the only quarter that they can put a gravel pit in, through a loophole. If you go any further to the east, it's a no-go zone and preventative area, if you go on the other side, it's the Burmis Lundbreck Corridor, they are sandwiched. One quarter."

"You're not coming through here without disturbing wetlands. They're going to be destroyed and we're all going to be on the hook for that."

He mentioned the potential habitat damage of the proposed pit to osprey, elk, deer, moose, bears, cougars, and other wildlife in the area.

"There's the Lundbreck sign, look straight north, I urge all of you before you make this decision, you guys have got to come up here and see this."

He suggested there could be a 39% decrease in property values in the area, and provided supporting documentation of that suggestion. He said the MD of Willow has twice turned down similar proposals, again providing documentation.

He voiced concerns about potential aquifer impacts. "There's only x amount of water.... once it's gone it's gone."

"Gravel provides filtration and everything we need to live."

The Anctils also supplied council and press with a large binder full of organized related documents.

Ed Wallace

Ed Wallace spoke to council next, telling them if the rezoning is approved "We would probably sell right away." His property is currently undeveloped. "Our well is 260 feet deep, and we're only getting 3 gallons a minute. I think that if anything touches that aquifer, we're probably going to lose that."

Eleanor Bergen

Eleanor Bergen read from a letter to council signed by herself and her husband  Jeremy. She said they owned a property valued at $520 thousand and sought the advice of a realtor about the potential effect on her property value. "The mention of a future gravel pit being build directly across your line of view will greatly change the value in a negative way. Although view does not have any material value to a property, it greatly affects the value of any property."

"We bought our home based on the quality of the property, which includes our beautiful view of the Crowsnest River Valley, the native grasslands, the Porcupine Hills and the Livingstone Range. We understand that thing can change, but this proposed bylaw will place a gravel pit in the middle of our line of view, our picture frame."

"Our next concern is that with the increasing pressure on our native grass and farmland, we question the need in developing another gravel pit in close proximity to other existing ones. Not only are we concerned with the effect it will have on the land but the impact it is going to have on the MD's infrastructure, the local users, and the surrounding residents' land and homes."

"The increased dust and other industrial exhausts in the air, noise pollution from heavy industry, Excess heavy traffic on our rural roads, these all decrease our quality of life in these places we chose to call home."
"We value our land, our heritage, quiet and peaceful living, and want to keep it as such," said Bergen. "Not only are we concerned with the effect it will have on the land, but the impact it is going to have on the MD's infrastructure, the local users, and the surrounding residents land and homes."

She concluded with a reiteration of the MD vision statement.

Gail Oxtoby

"We purchased our home in 2007, said Gail Oxtoby, who also reminded council that it was Earth Day. She said her property was bought for the view. "We love that location. It is with alarm that we heard about the proposed gravel pit, and the fact that it would be dead-center in that view."

Larry Whan

Larry Whan used quotes from "The Precautionary Principle" (click here) to illustrate his feelings about the proposed rezoning. "The key element of the principle is it incites us to take anticipatory action in the absence of scientific certainty. Most existing laws and regulations focus on cleaning up and controlling damage rather than preventing it."

"An action should not be taken if the consequences are potentially dangerous."

He concluded by stating the five key elements of the Precautionary Principle, which can be read by clicking here.

Livingstone Landowners Guild

Livingstone Landowners Guild President Ted Smith spoke next. "Our main objective is to encourage and support responsible planning and development."

"I was on council 2007 when the Oldman River Reservoir area structure plan was reviewed and changed. We added two quarter sections at that time."

"Our full intention was to get these plans joined," Smith explained, "To work for the community." Smith said reclamation of rough fescue grasses after the gravel was played out might be hard to accomplish. He questioned the size of the proposed pit, saying it was just under what would require it to go to Alberta Environment for approval instead of MD council.

"They're applying for a 9 acre permit. That just gets them under the 12.5 acres required for Alberta Environmental approval."

"You can pick up 9 acres at a time and avoid it."

"When I was still on council we did deny a gravel pit...for the exact same reasons that folks are talking about."

"This corner of the corridor is in an environmentally significant, environmentally sensitive area."

Philippe Francois

"I am a medical doctor, and I have to say something about the dust," said Philippe Francois. "The dust of gravel pit is not ordinary dust. He said it could be respinsible for "Growing obstructive pulmonary disease, and an increased incidence of lung cancer".

"With the predominant wind from the west all the residents to the east will be directly exposed."

John Taylor

John Taylor lives in home adjacent to the proposed pit and said he suffers from asthma. "I moved to area for quality of life, and the wild life, and I would not want to see that disturbed."


Reeve Hammond asked the applicant if he wanted to speak to any of the concerns raised before the hearing officially ended.

"When you reclaim, you are supposed to be a metre above the existing water," said Michelson.  "You try to stay above the water at all times, anyway." 

"As far as getting it back to the grasses, it depends on the pit whether you can get it back to your grass or not. If your pit has enough topsoil on top, and you can put it together to put it back on.  You can get your grasses back if you have the proper dirt."   

"We try to do that."


With that, the Public Hearing was declared closed.  The proposed bylaw will be discussed by council at an upcoming meeting.

1 comment:

  1. Anonymous1/5/14

    Its the pits: It seems Mr. Michelson doesnt even know the names of the topographical features of the area. Cottonwood Creek? Where the heck is that? Could he mean Connelly Creek? Put me dopwn as apposed to the pit.


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