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Controversial Bearspaw gravel pit application refused by council

After fierce public outcry over a proposed gravel pit in Bearspaw, Rocky View County (RVC) council voted to refuse the application on Feb. 3.

ROCKY VIEW— After fierce public outcry over a proposed gravel pit in Bearspaw, Rocky View County council voted to refuse the application on Wednesday (Feb. 3).

The refusal came in the form of two motions passed at the tail end of a marathon special council meeting and public hearing devoted to the application, which was held over two days

“There is no doubt that Rocky View County and its surrounding areas have some of the richest gravel deposits in North America, and it may well be true that these lands do contain good gravel, however that is not what is in question today – the land use is,” said area Councillor Samanntha wright, who motioned for refusal on both items. “I do believe that the negative impact of extraction on this land outweighs the positive.”

Council voted 8-1 in refusal for the land-use redesignation, with Coun. Greg Boehlke providing the only vote against.

The rejection means the Lehigh Hanson Inc. plan to develop a large gravel pit on the 600-acre site at Rocky Ridge Road and 144th Avenue NW was rejected for the third time in 27 years. Lehigh Hansen’s proposed development was previously denied by councils in 2010 and 1994.

The most recent application would have allowed Lehigh Hansen to excavate gravel from the pit and use an overland conveyor belt system to transport it to the company's northwest Calgary facility.

Boehlke said during his closing statement he felt the entire situation had been overplayed at the municipal level.

“The Master Site Development Plan is a fulsome document as far as I am concerned,” he said. “It tells us the story of how they plan to do this, what studies were done and will be done. This is the guideline to future development on this piece of land.”

He added the process has brought a lot of ridicule over Rocky View County's processes.

“It’s a total lack of understanding or just plain ignorance, I’m not sure which,” he said.

During the public hearing, 83 videos were submitted in opposition of the proposed gravel pit, along with 476 letters and 267 email submissions. Rocky View County received 15 letters in support.

Residents were concerned with sound levels, air quality, water quality and how the gravel pit would impact the assessment values of homes in the area. Other concerns included the region’s increased residential density compared to when the pit was previously proposed.

Bearspaw resident Susan Brown submitted one of the videos in opposition. Speaking on her own and two other residents’ behalf, she said the Master Site Development Plan was completely deficient in addressing harmful impacts of the “massive open-pit gravel mine they are proposing to put in the middle of a residential neighbourhood.”

“Serious flaws or omissions exist in their proposal with respect to groundwater, noise and air quality,” she said. “These omissions and inaccuracies effectively render the proposal unacceptable. We are very concerned that groundwater will be irreversibly harmed by the pit.”

In an email submission, resident Heather Allison said she is against the development of a gravel pit due to the “destruction of our natural ecological systems in the areas.”

“Other major concerns are the health implications of the surrounding population,” she wrote. “Have there been studies undertaken to determine the health risks and carcinogenic risks generated from the dust of the open mine?”

Allison added potential drops in property values were another consideration for her opposition.

“The aggregate industry is not prepared to compensate these property owners, should they decide to sell their home,” she said.

In response to some of the opposition levelled against the company, Lehigh Hanson Inc. said the gravel pit would generate more than $21 million in tax and levy revenues for the County during its 25- to 30-year lifespan and support 71 jobs at any one time.

In addition, Valerie Haff with Lehigh Hanson Inc. presented a rebuttal after hearing all of the negative feedback from residents.

“We stand by the methodology our independent and third-party consultants put into investigations,” she said. “We are confident that the conclusions of each of the technical reports prepared to form a proposal demonstrate that our application is consistent with requirements.”

Ken Venner of Brown and Associates Planning Group, on behalf of Lehigh Hanson, said during the rebuttal period he wanted to clarify that since the beginning of the project, the company was committed to working with the community based on principals of accessibility and transparency.

“We worked extremely hard to make sure the public had access to information and given appropriate opportunities to provide input,” he said. “We have listened and heard every comment. We have made specific changes to our application to reflect our understanding of those concerns.”

As the decision passed on Feb. 3, it is unclear whether Lehigh Hanson Inc. plans on submitting another application in the future.

At the tail end of the public hearing, Coun. Mark Kamachi said without a doubt the gravel pit was one of the toughest decisions council has had to vote on.

“At the end of the day, we are here for our residents,” he said. “If this were happening in my neighbourhood, I wouldn’t want it either. If this wasn’t so close to residents, it would be an easy decision. I have to vote with my heart and vote for the people in the community.”

Jordan Stricker,
Follow me on Twitter @Jay_Strickz