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RV Forward supports Rocky View Gravel Watch's ARP submission

The following document was sent to County staff and Council...

RVF would like to emphasize some broad concerns with the initial draft of the County’s Aggregate Resource Plan (“ARP”). Having worked closely with Rocky View Gravel Watch, we fully support its submission and stand behind the group’s recommendations.

The draft ARP is written with a clear industry bias. It is based on the assumption that gravel extraction should be allowed anywhere in the County. As it is currently written, the rights of the gravel industry trump the rights of residents. RVF’s position is that the County’s gravel policy must be based on the premise that aggregate extraction and people in near proximity are not compatible, and that even the most effective controls cannot mitigate all harm from gravel operations. Simply, there are areas in the County where aggregate extraction should not be permitted. In those areas where gravel extraction may be appropriate, strict rules of behavior must be followed.

We understand that gravel pits are important for the construction of roads, buildings and other infrastructure. However, we question why Rocky View would volunteer to be Calgary’s gravel pit. Very little of the gravel extracted in Rocky View is used in the County. Most is used either in Calgary or elsewhere in the Province. Edmonton has found viable alternatives that do not impose the negative impacts from gravel extraction on its residents or on the residents of other municipalities. Industry believes that aggregate should be extracted closest to need. This is strictly a profit driven consideration. Supplementing industry’s profits is none of the County’s concern. Both the Tsuu T’ina and Stoney bands have offered to supply gravel to the County – an option that, to date, has not been explored.

We suggest that the County should view gravel pits as similar to garbage dumps – a societal need, but not something one wants in one’s backyard. With this perspective, new gravel pits should only be permitted if they supply an identified demand. The policy must recognize that gravel pits, like sanitary landfills, do not belong near residential properties. The policy should also include meaningful setbacks and effectively enforceable standards to ensure the safe operation of gravel operations.

In looking at Rocky View’s broader obligations, as stated in the Municipal Government Act, the draft ARP falls short of these obligations, which include to “develop and maintain safe communities” (Sec. 3(c)) and to “consider the welfare and interests of the municipality as a whole” (Sec. 153(a)). The draft fails to protect the health and safety of county residents; weakens residents’ property rights; fails to provide adequate environmental protection; ignores the implied social contract that governs the quality of life residents should be able to expect; and presents unenforceable vague performance standards as the only protection for residents from the unquestionable harm associated with gravel operations.

If the gravel industry was a major revenue source for the County, there might be some minor justification for sacrificing residents’ interests, health and safety to encourage aggregate development. However, aggregate companies contribute very little to the County’s revenues. In a good year, the CAP levy contributes close to $1 million, a trivial amount compared to the cost of repairing the degradation of County roads caused by thousands of heavy gravel truck loads travelling over County roads every week. Given that operating gravel pits are assessed only on the active portion of their property, aggregate companies’ property tax contributions can be considered rather insignificant.

RVF strongly encourages the County to follow through on its ability to establish stricter performance standards than those imposed by the Province. The Provincial Code of Practice for Pits provides relatively minimal requirements in many important areas. The accompanying Guide includes guidance on best practices in many operational areas – areas completely ignored in the draft ARP. The County should support Rocky View Gravel Watch’s recommendations to move this guidance from optional to mandatory. The County should support the objective of ensuring aggregate operators employ best practices. Without such an objective, the County is destined to fail in fulfilling its fiduciary responsibilities to its residents.

The initial draft of the ARP trampled on residents’ rights and interests, and ignored the feedback the County received from its residents. The overwhelming sentiment of those attending open houses was that they were a waste of time. To hold meetings without documenting the feedback received or providing opportunity for residents to participate in meaningful debate and discussion is poor practice and demonstrates a lack of accountability on behalf of the County to its residents.

The concerns we have heard the most from our members are (in no particular order):

  • Health effects – crystalline silica and the impact of air pollutants

  • Need for sufficient setbacks that protect residents and other land users from the negative impact of gravel dust and the industrial nature of gravel extraction

  • The County received a document with over 1600 signatures that asked for 2 mile setbacks years ago

  • LSAC includes setbacks of 800m and 1600m and its climate is less harsh than Rocky View’s, so its setbacks should be considered as absolutely bare minimums.

  • Must protect environmentally sensitive areas

  • Road safety

  • No turning lanes or shoulders entering/exiting gravel pits

  • Truck haul routes – gravel companies should pay to maintain roads

  • A reporting mechanism for unsafe driving of gravel trucks

  • The ARP’s language favours industry – the onus should be on industry to prove it won’t negatively impact communities. It should not be incumbent on the residents to prove why they don’t want pits

  • Strict rules on reapplication – it is time consuming, stressful and onerous for residents to keep fighting pit applications – most stated 10-year reapplication period on large pits

  • Concerns about cumulative effects of multiple pits in one concentrated area

  • Better enforcement and monitoring measures – paid for by the aggregate industry

  • Monitoring stations should be placed on the properties of those most affected

  • No point having rules if no one is there to monitor them

  • More bylaw officers ensuring compliance on aggregate sites and on the roads

  • Reclamation – need to make sure companies pay up front so, in the event they go bankrupt, they don’t leave the taxpayer on the hook

  • Property value – studies prove that values decrease significantly the closer one lives to a gravel pit. People’s homes are their largest investment

Many residents feel betrayed by the initial draft. RVF would like to emphasize how important it is for the County to ensure that the next draft of the ARP accurately reflects the input it receives from residents. The initial draft completely ignored input received during the first round of ARP consultations. It also failed to consider the detailed information the County has received over many years from residents in multiple public hearings for applications for aggregate operations.

It is encouraging that the County recognizes that this first draft is seriously flawed and is committed to preparing a revised draft. If the next draft of the ARP meets the objectives we have outlined above, we are hopeful that it will form the base for a final policy that is acceptable to everyone.

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