Aggregate Resource Plan
The County began developing a gravel policy in April 2015, with a target completion date of March 2017. This target has clearly not been met. At this point, Administration has confirmed that a revised draft of the Aggregate Resource Plan (ARP) will not be released until after the October election.
The process surrounding the ARP has been tainted from the beginning when the County hired Golder Associates, a known Alberta Sand & Gravel Association member, to write the original document. Despite objections from residents about Golder’s close affiliation with ASGA, the gravel industry’s lobby group, the County continued to work with Golder until a month before the release of the initial draft of the ARP.
As many had feared, the draft ARP was heavily biased in favour of the aggregate industry. The backlash from residents was sufficiently strong that the existing Bearspaw Gravel Watch Group expanded its scope and became Rocky View Gravel Watch. It held an information meeting on the draft ARP that attracted well over 100 people – far more than attended any of the County’s open houses.
The County’s open houses became something of joke when they replaced the original format, which had included a presentation and a Q&A session with poster board displays and staff available to answer individual questions.
The vehement opposition from residents to the original draft of the ARP caused the delays. The County and the gravel industry had not counted on residents standing up for their rights. When the February deadline for submissions on the draft ARP arrived, the County had received over 1,800 submissions, including a 73-page submission from Rocky View Gravel Watch.
This overwhelming negative feedback caused the County to opt for a rewrite of the ARP. It remains to be seen how thorough the rewrite will be.
What’s Happening on Gravel in the Interim
Council extended the target completion date for the ARP to March 2018. The delay does ensure time for needed public consultation on the revised version. However, it did leave the door wide open for Council to ram through new gravel pit applications.
When Council was considering the ARP’s deadline extension, Rocky View Forward and Rocky View Gravel Watch both asked for permission to address Council. This request was defeated in a 6 – 2 vote, with Boehlke, Solberg, Ashdown, Habberfield, Lowther and Kendall all refusing to hear from residents.
The two groups had intended to present options for dealing with gravel applications until the ARP could be finalized. The preference would have been for a moratorium on gravel applications until the ARP was adopted. Alternatively, at the very least, Council could have required that any applications approved in the interim would have to comply with the ARP’s provisions once it was finalized.
Instead, Councillors Lowther and Kendall confirmed that it would be “business as usual” for gravel applications. This is particularly troubling since the County admits its current policy falls short in protecting residents from gravel operations, especially regarding the cumulative impacts of multiple gravel pits. The ARP is supposed to address these shortcomings.
The hypocrisy in Council’s handling of the ARP became evident very quickly when applications for three new gravel pits were rushed through. In July 2016, Council had put gravel applications on hold until the ARP was finalized. But, at the insistence of impatient gravel companies, Council willingly rushed through three gravel pit applications this summer, with the only dissenting voices coming from Councillors Arshinoff and Bahcheli.
The three gravel pits approved in July – Summit, Lafarge and McNair – are all in Division 9, beside each other on Big Hill Springs Road (Hwy 567). These applications were approved despite overwhelming opposition from area residents who questioned the hastiness of the process in light of the pending ARP and their inability access the applications’ technical studies that purportedly support the appropriateness of aggregate operations in these locations. The County has consistently misused Freedom of Information legislation to deny residents (and interested Councillors) access to the technical studies presented as part of the gravel companies’ applications.
These pits were given land use approval in July and will be coming back to Council in late September with their Master Site Development Plans. At the public hearings in July, Council directed the gravel companies to work together to address the cumulative effects of Council’s having just approved three new gravel pits adjacent to the one already operating on Hwy 567. As Councillor Bahcheli pointed out, this direction to the gravel companies was akin to asking the fox to manage the hen house.
Council’s decisions on gravel over the last few months have been a travesty when considered in light of the severe negative impacts from gravel for residents’ health and safety and in terms of orderly policy development for the ARP.
Rocky View Gravel Watch
Rocky View Gravel Watch represents over 300 Rocky View residents. The group is run by a steering committee of about 15 members that includes doctors, lawyers, engineers, geologist, geophysicists, wildlife biologists, policy writers and communications specialists. Rocky View Gravel Watch has come together to help unify the community by providing a consistent voice on gravel issues in Rocky View as they pertain to residents and the environment.
The group's submission to the County on the draft ARP was over 70 pages. The main focus of the submission is that the only thing that keeps people safe from the effects of gravel is distance, in gravel terms this means minimum setbacks. Since setbacks were virtually omitted from the first draft, the group has worked hard to create a tiered setback criteria that serves to protect residents without sterilizing the resource. Their submission highlighted where the group felt the draft ARP had failed residents while providing solutions and a detailed rationale as to why changes are necessary.