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Highlands quarry proposal comes down to provincial approval

O.K. Industries feels demand is rock-solid reason for the project
O.K. Industries is looking to build a quarry next to Capital Regional District land, of which the aquifer sits underneath. This map was taken from the 2015 report for the rezoning application. (Photo courtesy District of Highlands)

Rick Stiebel/News Staff

The proponent for a quarry in the Highlands believes a growing demand for aggregate throughout the region and beyond is a rock-solid reason the project should go ahead.

Mel Sangha, general manager for O.K. Industries, said that although he understands that aggregate is not something the average person thinks about every day, gravel is an essential component for infrastructure and development, especially on southern Vancouver Island. “This location reduces the environmental impact of transporting aggregate locally compared to trucking it in from long distances,” he noted.

Before the company bought a 65-acre property in the Highlands in 2015, O.K. Industries spoke with Highlands District staff to clarify industrial and commercial uses considered for the property, which has been designated commercial/industrial for decades, Sangha said.

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O.K. Industries is a local family-owned business that’s been in operation since the 1950s. The company has about 225 employees in locations in Victoria, Duncan, Parksville, Courtenay, Campbell River and Port Hardy involved in asphalt paving and aggregate crushing, as well as chip sealing throughout the province.

“We could have applied for a permit with the Ministry of Energy, Mines and Petroleum Resources without even attempting to rezone,” Sangha explained. “If you’re going to be quarrying for years, we felt it was better to have a positive relationship out of the gate. The rezoning was rejected, even though the consultant hired by the District recommended rezoning with conditions.”

The quarry would involve about 60 per cent of the property for building sites and access roads, and the District would be able to decide on permitted uses once the work was completed, Sangha said. Initial discussions included the option of developing the site in phases as well, he added. “We wanted to work with the District on their final vision.”

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“We have addressed concerns brought to our attention through the ministry,” he said. “We have relied on third-party professionals, consultants and experts in their fields.” As a result of feedback from stakeholders, the company has substantially reduced the project’s footprint and reduced the timeline for quarrying from the original application of 25 to 30 years down to 16.

“The province controls the process,” Sangha said. “They are the decision-makers.”

A spokesperson or the Ministry of Energy Mines and Petroleum Resources said O.K. Industries application for a Mines Act permit is currently in review, and a date for a decision could not be provided at this time.

“The Ministry’s Statutory Decision-Makers consider and weigh all relevant information and perspectives in order to inform their decisions,” an email stated. “The Ministry is undertaking a thorough and comprehensive review based on input from the District of Highlands and other affected stakeholders and agencies.”