Dear Minister Bennett. I live in Lake Errock BC which is a lakeside community 20 minutes east of Mission BC. The community is nestled around a lake. However the mountain immediately above and next to the community has been turned into a toxic moonscape by gravel operations. This pit is simply too close to the community to be tolerable, it can never be operated safely without damaging the health of the community and the noise cannot be mitigated adequately as it is simply too close and too high above the community.
Please help us save our way of life, protect our health and conserve our property values. This has been going on a long time; there is no simple, short way to explain how horrendous this has been for the community, so please excuse the length of this letter.
A gravel pit had operated near the community on a small scale until 2010 when large Germany-based corporate interests, who had taken over the pit, swiftly removed all that could be taken from the site. The noise was intolerable, the dust pervasive (and never tested for toxins) during dry weather, the company illegally mined outside the permissible area and operated outside regulated hours. The Ministry of Energy and Mines did absolutely nothing to enforce any regulation, or to respond to community concerns. The pit operated without the permits from local government (Fraser valley Regional District) until we, the community, forced the issue.
In short this community is well aware that gravel pit operators make dreadful, untrustworthy neighbours. We learned that the local Mines Inspector has absolutely no interest in addressing community concerns about the consequences of gravel extraction.
This law breaking neighbor then applied for a permit to vastly expand their operations. The community has now learned that the permitting process is a sham, designed to guarantee approval. All studies used in the process are commissioned by the proponent, who sets the parameters for the studies, chooses the contractor, and can avoid publishing any study that is not supportive of their goal. Meanwhile the Mines Inspectors pretend that funding bias does not exist, ignore the fact that issues like human health from toxic dust (the dust inevitably contains silica, chromium and cadmium – all potentially toxic) were not even studied, ignore effects on drinking water and water courses, and refuse to meet with the community.
The only meeting (July 25, 2012, in Mission BC) that occurred was organized by the proponent. It was clearly set up to allow the proponent to pretend they had consulted the community. The meeting, scheduled to last 2 hours, took up 1 hour and 15 minutes with presentations from the proponent and the contractors he had paid, and then there was a break. The chair of the meeting then said that there was half an hour for the community to speak, each speaker limited to 5 minutes including response times. The two aggregate truck drivers present were permitted to speak without signing the speaker sheet; all others had to sign up. We in the community are not stupid; we know when we are being played. The community rejected the proponents plan and the meeting was forced to go past nine o’clock. But anyone in attendance soon realized that neither the local Mines Inspector nor the proponent cared about anything the community had to say. The total absence of any further meetings or any response to community concerns since that time proves the point.
Attending that meeting was Julia Berardinucci, formerly Director, Ministry of Forests, Lands and Natural Resource Operations. She has written a report that we understand expresses concerns about seepage occurring at the site. The community has not seen this document, but it deserves to before this process proceeds one more inch. However, the local Mines Inspector has told residents that in the next 3 weeks he intends to permit the vast expansion on gravel operations so close to us.
Since that meeting in July 2012, the community has not been consulted or informed of the progress of this permit application. Clearly the plan is to shut out the community, hope the heat dies down then quietly permit the pit expansion. This is disrespectful and irresponsible. The community has legitimate concerns; the idea of locating pits right next to and above homes is egregious. There is plenty of gravel in BC without locating pits right next to people, threatening their health, their way of life and their property values. Simply put, it is wrong.
Below is a summary of the major issues and some questions the community would like you, as the Minister of Energy and Mines, to answer.
Summary of the Major Issues
- This pit is too close to homes.
- The sound study was invalid as the sound engineer informed the operator immediately prior to carrying out the test. This test cannot have been repeated as the pit has not been operating. The fact is this pit cannot operate without being too loud.
- No independent studies were included at all in the proponent’s submission.
- No studies related to the health effects of dust from the pit were done as part of this permit application. Fraser Health Authority has expressed concern. The Ministry of Energy and Mines has no-one qualified to make health decisions for communities, but takes on this decision making nonetheless. Nor do Mines Inspectors consult with qualified experts, most likely as they know that toxins (including metals such as cadium and chromium) are inevitably released in the extraction process and the ramifications of finding out that human health is at risk could have consequences detrimental to the gravel operators throughout the Fraser Valley. This deliberate avoidance of this obvious threat to health is irresponsible, unprofessional and demonstrates the cronyism that exists between the Ministry and the industry.
- Lake Errock’s and the First Nation’s water supplies come from aquifers that are likely to be damaged as a result of pit expansion. No studies of the consequences on water supplies were done. Toxins are released into the environment from gravel extraction so our water is threatened. No monitoring of our water has been planned. Currently it is only tested for bacterial contamination.
- The consequences of expansion of the pit on the lake and water courses and were not studied by the contractors hired by the proponent of this pit. Mines Inspector Taje admits the old pit was dumping silt into Lake Errock, but has done absolutely nothing to investigate further or to address this pollution issue.
- Traffic issues were not part of the documents presented at the meeting ort available on the FVRD website. This long bend on the Highway 7 by the pit is not a suitable place for such large vehicles, or any vehicles, to be making a left hand turn. Signs and changing the lines on the road will not change the fact that there is a curve. This is a tragedy in the making.
- Julia Berardinucci prepared a report on the Lake Errock pit proposal. This has not been presented to the public. It must be released publicly and the issues it raises, we understand this is about illegal seepage, must be addressed.
- The operator and the Ministry of Energy and Mines had a public meeting in July where they tried to foist the plan on the community. The community rejected the plan. Now Mines Inspector Taje having done absolutely nothing to address the community’s issues, and with a willful and outrageous lack of concern for the health of people in the area, plans to permit pit expansion far too close to where people live.
- Communities throughout BC have complained about the one-sided permit process for gravel pits and the excessively cozy relationship between Mines Inspectors and the gravel companies. The community of Lake Errock already knows that gravel pit operators are appallingly bad neighbors who pollute and ignore the few regulations that do exist, while the Ministry of Energy and Mines makes no effort to enforce regulations.
The Questions We Need Answered
- What are you going to do to ensure community issues are addressed?
- What are you going to do to ensure the health of residents is protected from the pollutants inevitably released by gravel mining?
- What are you going to do to stop Mines Inspectors, unqualified in health matters, being able to permit gravel pits without due diligence regarding human health?
- What are you going to do to address the overly close relationship between the Ministry of Energy and Mines, where personnel meet regularly and secretly with the mining companies but dismiss, avoid, minimize and ignore the communities who are devastated by the gravel operations located too close to people’s homes?
- There is plenty of gravel in BC that is nowhere near human habitation. What are you going to do to stop gravel pits being permitted too close to people’s homes?
Please help the community of Lake Errock. Other communities across the Fraser Valley and throughout BC have similar issues, but the proximity of the pit, the way it looms over the community together with the years this community has already endured the consequences of a gravel pit too close to our homes requires that our concerns be taken seriously. Please see the attached picture to see how absurd this situation is. That entire mountain will be one giant pit if this permit is granted. Enough is enough.
People in the Fraser Valley know that if this pit can be permitted then gravel pits can go in anywhere. There is no need for any of this as there is plenty of gravel located away from homes.
Do the right thing: protect Lake Errock and deny this permit.
Lake Errock, BC
UPDATE – 29/08/13 12:24
Comment from Wendy Bales
Area C Director, FVRD
Whether by the archaic Mines Act and more so by the large gravel zones that are proposed by the Aggregate Pilot Project (APP), both will escalate conflict impacts to communities like Lake Errock. Impacts like that of dust on health, noise, road safety, water quality and quantity and adequate and fair regulating on behalf of communities.
One example is that proper dust studies were not done and shared with the public when the 1st lake Errock pit was in full production, so people don’t know the full health impacts from dust until after pits are permitted and possible until it affects them. It has been more immediately evident to people with any repertory problems. Sometimes health impacts take years to be known and more to be properly diagnosed.
Lake Errock has a high risk aquifer according to the provincial auditor and that is an example of why clusters of mines should not still be happening in our important habitat and community watersheds without thorough independent cumulative impact studies. Already this year I have heard of local area people’s wells going dry. The APP’s massive mining zones proposed in our communities and most important watersheds are unsustainable and don’t address the cumulative impacts of so many mines in one watershed.
Attached is a map of what pits are in our area that are running against the current zoning. As well is a 2011 letter from then minister Terry Lake who agreed that the cumulative impact of gravel pose a serious problem, and yet cumulative impacts have still not been considered or studied as part of mining approvals.
In contrast when I was on the east coast of Canada it was rare to see a gravel pit on any of the main roads by communities or by their tourism routes. I’m guessing that they cherish their tourism dollars and place a higher value on communities.
We are still acting the wild west when it comes to mining and other resource extraction taking president over the health of communities, water protection and other important habitat considerations. With growing populations we really can’t afford to continue on this way.