Rick Stiebel/News Staff
Opposition to an application to extract gravel from a site in the Highlands is growing by the truckload.
Scott Richardson, chair of the Highland District Community Asociation, said more than 200 people have signed a petition against an application by O.K. Industries to extract gravel from a 65-acre site in the Highlands, and he expects that total will increase.
The signatures were gathered after an open house to disseminate more information and research on the proposal in May. The B.C. Ministry of Energy, Mines and Petroleum Resources had asked O.K. industries to conduct more research and test public opinion in light of that research which included hundreds of pages of consultants’ reports, Richardson said. Although the Highlands District Community Association has several concerns with the application, groundwater and surface water are key, he explained. “Our whole community relies on groundwater,” he explained. The consultants’ reports have not conclusively indicated contaminants in Millstream Meadows - a former contaminated toxic dump that has been partially remediated - will not migrate over time into our groundwater due to blasting and overburden at the site, Richardson noted.
“People in the Highlands are hyper-vigilant about their water as any community that depends on groundwater would be,” Richardson stressed. “Can you imagine if a similar activity was going on in the Sooke Watershed?” There is also concern that surface water contaminants will get into Millstream Creek, where there have already been “enormous” efforts to bring back the salmon, he added.
Other concerns include increased traffic, noise from equipment and blasting, dust emanating from the property, and reduction in property values.
“There’s no way residents want something approved that will go on for a decade or two,” he added. He cites information at stopthequarry.ca that examines the stigmatization factor for people who live within five kilometres of a quarry. The negative economic effect of loss in value increases the closer you are to the quarry and hits about 20 per cent for those who live within 1km of a quarry, Richardson said.
Richardson said that although a similar operation in the Highlands is set to finish in the next five years or so, the O.K. Industries application’s timeline is for a period of 16 to 25 years. “There’s no way residents want something approved that will go on for a decade or two,” he added. The land was zoned greenbelt when O.K. Industries purchased it in 2014. The company applied to rezone it in November of 2016, but that application was denied by the District of Highlands in March of 2017. O.K. Industries then made an application to the Ministry of Energy, Mines and Petroleum Resources for the project.
“I have nothing against O.K. Industries,” Richardson said. “They purchased the property that doesn’t include permission for opening a strip mine. Strip mining is ugly.”
“Our core issue is not with O.K. Industries. The core is the mining legislation that dates back to the 1880s. It’s time for that legislation to be brought into the 21st century by defining public interest and how that should be considered, by defining processes for public input so that decisions on land use are made collaboratively. Gravel is not a precious resource, so don’t do it near a precious water resource or people.”
O.K. Industries president Cory Sangha and Don Harrison, statutory decision-maker for the Ministry of Energy, Mines and Petroleum Resources could not be reached for comment before the News Gazette’s press deadline.