The province has permitted a proposed aggregate mining site on Millstream Road in Highlands, three years after O.K. Industries Ltd. submitted a Mines Act Permit for work to be done on the company’s property.
A statement from the Highlands District Community Association (HDCA) said the association learned late Wednesday that the B.C. government has permitted the mine and noted that the Highlands community has raised concerns opposing it. The association also said the timing of the decision, during a provincial state of emergency due to the COVID-19 pandemic, has made it difficult for public meetings about the decision to occur.
“On multiple levels, this is a catastrophic decision, but let’s not forget the compassion and care we need for each other in times of a global pandemic,” said HDCA chair Scott Richardson. “As a community association, that is our first thought. To us, however, the timing of the decision reflects complete insensitivity to public engagement and astoundingly poor judgment by the Ministry.”
The HDCA statement said O.K. Industries’ property connects with the groundwater aquifer that the Highlands community depends on for drinking water. The site also has an ecosystem of forested hills and wetlands adjoining Thetis Lake park. The statement said two fish-bearing streams will also be affected. Additionally, the association has some concern about how blasting will affect groundwater contamination.
Mel Sangha, corporate adviser and former general manager of O.K. Industries said the province gathered as much information about concerns – including those of residents – as possible and asked O.K. Industries to respond to “a lengthy set of questions” based on those concerns.
The company, using third party consultants and experts, engaged in different studies to learn about any effects on the environment, aquifer and the area.
“We, nor the public, have the opportunity to influence the decision that the province makes,” Sangha said. “They have an entire team of professionals that have been doing this for years so I’m guessing they would not issue a permit if they felt the proposal was inadequately addressing areas of concern.”
In July, Richardson said more than 200 people signed a petition against O.K. Industries’ application to extract gravel from the site. Last spring, the B.C. Ministry of Energy, Mines and Petroleum Resources asked the company to conduct more research and test public opinion.
Richardson also previously told Black Press Media that the association’s core issue is not with O.K. Industries, but with mining legislation that dates back to the 1880s. He said the legislation needs to define public interest and how it should be considered so decisions on land use are made collaboratively.
The statement from the HDCA also said the decision by the province “offers no economic analysis of the purported benefits of the mine versus the social, environmental and property value impacts.” The decision will be studied by the HDCA, the statement said, and options for an appeal will be assessed.
“Doing so under a state of emergency is unreasonable while we can’t even meet, and this severely compromises our ability to make the required decisions and seek necessary legal advice within the statutory timelines,” Richardson said.
In the meantime, the HDCA is asking that O.K. Industries stays off the land until any appeal process has been heard and dealt with, review alternatives with local residents and adhere to restrictions recommended by biologists like avoiding site activities during the bird nesting window of March 1 and Aug. 31.
Sangha said he knows the District and the HDCA are against the quarry, but he is hoping O.K. Industries can re-engage with the community to try and find a solution.