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