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Bales bucks 'spin' of FVRD release on gravel meeting

Wendy Bales, FVRD electoral area director in Lake Errock, says she did not endorse a media release last week announcing a public meeting in Chilliwack on a proposed gravel mining plan.

"As a board member, I only saw the FVRD story after it was already released," Bales said in an email to The Progress.

"I would just like to clarify that I do not endorse the FVRD media release. Although it has some facts included, I don't agree with some of the spin or slant."

Such as the "milestone" description FVRD chair Sharon Gaetz gave to the Tuesday meeting where public views will be heard on maps that show where gravel mines will be allowed under the Aggregate Pilot Project (APP).

"From the extensive feedback we have received to date, it is clear the rural residents are passionate about protecting the environment and rural lifestyles," Gaetz said in the release.

However, Bales pointed out that an "overwhelming majority" at earlier public meetings opposed the APP, whose basic shape was reached in 2009 after years of closed-door negotiations between the FVRD, the B.C. government and the gravel industry.

The public continues to be shut out of the talks. Most FVRD directors voted against asking the B.C. government to allow public representatives from the Fraser Valley Regional District Citizens' Association to take part in subsequent APP negotiations, ,and a citizen's alternative to the APP was dismissed by the FVRD board.

Bales said in the email that she finds it "hard to have good faith" that the Tuesday meeting "will be anything but another layer of a rubber-stamp endorsement of giving away control of large areas of the Fraser Valley's Crown land's most important watersheds and habitats."

"Crown lands need to be protected for all water users and uses, and needs an overarching water plan which is farm more important and valuable than ... easy gravel access," she said.

But Gaetz said without the APP, local governments have no jurisdiction where gravel mines are approved by the B.C. Mines Ministry. The FVRD has also lost most court challenges at great expense to taxpayers.

In the release, Gaetz said the proposed soil removal bylaw will protect the FVRD's "most sensitive areas and ensure that any gravel removal is carried out in the most sustainable and environmentally sound manner."

She said no new gravel mines will be allowed in more than 77,500 hectares (191,000 acres) of the Fraser Valley region, and gravel operators will need to meet permit conditions regarding dust, noise, nuisance and environmental issues.

She also said the cost of enforcing gravel bylaws will shift from electoral area taxpayers to the industry.

And more public consultations will take place as changes to zoning and official community plans of each electoral area are brought forward, she said.

No decisions about the APP will be made by FVRD directors at the Tuesday meeting that starts at 7 p.m. at the Evergreen Hall located at 9291 Corbould St. in Chilliwack.

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