Fighting gravel applications in Alberta – Guest blog

Fighting gravel applications in Alberta – Guest blog

Fighting gravel applications in Alberta – Guest blog


January 20, 2011 was a good day for watersheds; it was the day that we stopped one of the gravel applications from going ahead in our community. My name is Dale Christian and I am a member of Committee to Protect the Red Deer River/Medicine River Alluvial Aquifer and Floodplain. This group was formed to protect our aquifer and rivers from two proposed gravel operations.

Our aquifer area is in a confluence of two rivers. The Red Deer River gravel fans carry shallow ground water to our wells and to the Medicine River walleye gravel spawning grounds. Our aquifer community has 12 families with 13 small children (2 with severe health problems). We were very concerned with the harms that could be caused by a gravel operation, including interfering with our water flow, contamination of our water supply, river and stream bed shifts and erosion, constant noise, air borne asphalt, particulate and diesel fumes, contamination of the exposed shared water from equipment spills and area runoff being directed into our drinking water source.

Fighting these gravel applications is stressful, but we read and studied and phoned and lobbied and we learned. We crafted a well-researched group letter to both Alberta Environment and Red Deer County asking for a moratorium on further gravel projects in alluvial aquifers in Red Deer County and an environmental assessment of this aquifer area.

In this case, we first had to convince the County to clarify that these applications were discretionary – not permitted under municipal bylaws. We were successful.

Meanwhile, the company 6M Holding filed applications to Alberta Environment and Red Deer County for a gravel pit. We had 30 days to file personal statements of concern with Alberta Environment to oppose licensing. In the  parallel “process” at the County, the Development Department helps the applicant get its application ready to come before Red Deer County’s Municipal Planning Commission (in this case the MPC is councilors). Adjacent landowners are kept outside the application process. We were told we would not be advised when the application would be heard by the MPC, so we had to watch the County website religiously for the agenda notice to know when to attend. (You might as well try to watch religiously since you’re down praying a lot anyway.) Our water, quality of life, health, safety, property values and ability to derive a living from the land are all in the balance in a gravel pit application.

The county Planning Commission denied the 6M Holding application, citing the County’s Municipal Development Plan regarding development in flood plains, sensitive areas and fragmentation of agricultural lands, as well as nuisances. 6M Holding immediately appealed to the County Subdivision Development Appeal Board (SDAB). The SDAB is a quasi-judicial body that can reverse or alter Planning Commission decisions.

We immediately asked Alberta Environment to hold off on their process. 6M Holding had answered our letter of concern and none of the answers were considered meaningful by us, so we had to send a response. Alberta Environment refused to wait until after the municipal process was finished and granted the application.

You need a lawyer and an expert for both the Planning Commission and at the Subdivision Development Appeal Board. We had a lawyer retained already and we hired Matrix Consulting to review the 6M Application. We believe this was necessary. The 6M plans kept changing and flood plain, siltation and aquatic health issues are complex. During the SDAB hearing, 6M Holding requested adjournment, which doubled our costs. Unfair? You bet!  Happily for us, the Appeal Board upheld the Planning Commission decision to deny the gravel application. The process is time consuming, tedious and expensive. The government processes allow the applicant to reapply. Your group will need time, commitment and money. Whereas at an Energy and Utility Board hearing costs are mostly covered, this is not the case with a sand and gravel application at the municipal level. To be effective, your strengths lie in tenacity, love of community and place and good councilors.

My personal observation is that at both levels of government “directly affected “needs a broader interpretation. “Directly affected” people need to be involved earlier in the process and should have the right to be informed and included. Costs should be borne by the industrial applicant.

Dale Christian

You can read the full Red Deer County Notice of Decision here: 6M Holdings Decision. (pdf)




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  • Adam Driedzic
    Posted at 11:43h, 15 February Reply

    Thanks, Dale. It is great to hear about public successes and a “how-to” for future participants. Needing lawyers and experts for board hearings reveals a need for law reform. The issues you raise – costs, standing, and procedural complexity – are all on the ELC’s radar. If a genuine and responsible group like yours faces access to justice barriers, then these barriers need to come down.

    • Sherry
      Posted at 20:55h, 18 July Reply

      Please help. I live in rural Parkland County and gravel pits are popping up all around us with rumours of many more spreading through local land owners like wild fire. Our family and others in the area have major concerns on the implications to the surrounding environment and our health and homesteads. We would like to know how to protest these developments from surrounding our homes and destroying our access roads. Any advise would be much appreciated.

      • Adam Driedzic
        Posted at 08:32h, 23 July Reply

        Hi Sherry,

        Start with the ELC fact sheet and powerpoint concerning the regulation of gravel pits in Alberta:

        “Gravel can be the pits”

        If you are considering intervening in the gravel development process there are two routes:

        1. Here is a link to the ELC guidebook on participating in the provincial environmental regulatory process.

        2. Here is a guide to the public’s role in the municipal development process:

        These two guidebooks are not specifically about gravel so start with the fact sheet.

        After the above ELC blog post was written, there were further success in challenging gravel development in municipally designated environmentally significant areas in Red Deer County. It may be one to watch.

        Here is another story about challenging gravel pits and links to many resources on the website of Water Matters:

        “Battling Gravel Goliaths”

        Please contact the ELC if there is interest in having us present in your community. The ELC provides legal information, education, and a lawyer referral service but we do not provide legal advice or client representation.

      • Melissa
        Posted at 04:00h, 31 October Reply

        we are in parkland also, is there a way to get in contact with Sherry, we have a open house to go to about a proposed pit not 200′ form our house.

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