Did Chilliwack city officials turn a blind eye to permit violations at a Vedder Mountain gravel pit where “over-mining” led to increased fees the city received under its gravel removal bylaw?
That’s the question raised by the Vedder Mountain Preservation Group, whose earlier research unearthed permit violations at the site that led to a brief stop-work order issued in January by the B.C. mines ministry.
“Someone in the city knew, or should have known, they were receiving money far beyond the permit, and to just let it happen creates a moral dilemma,” charged Victor Froese, a spokesman for the group.
But Mayor Sharon Gaetz replied to the charge Wednesday saying the city “has neither the authority, nor the resources to enforce regulations enacted” by the ministry.
“I can understand the frustration that local residents are feeling on this matter, but once again, I must re-iterate that this falls under provincial jurisdiction,” she said. “As per practice, we would only monitor activities related to our own bylaws.”
Gaetz said in an earlier interview that until recently the city was unaware of the gravel pit’s permit limits.
But Froese contends that a covenant between the city and the gravel pit owner compels the city to ensure the quarry is operating “in compliance with any permits issued” by the ministry.
“The city does have a responsibility to monitor the extraction, and the payments (removal fees) that go with it should be questioned,” he said.
According to city records obtained by the Vedder Mountain group, gravel removals at the site in 2008 exceeded the permit level by 233 per cent, netting the city an estimated $118,232 in fees, twice the $50,830 expected.
“Are we to believe (the city’s) accounting department would not notice this?” Froese asked.
“By condoning the operation … and over-riding the permit, they are making a considerable amount of money,” he said.
According to gravel volumes recorded in city documents, the quarry’s permit was also exceeded in 2007 and in 2010. Removal records for 2009 were not released by the city.
When the stop-work order was issued in January, Kirkness told The Progress that the over-production occurred because of the need to fulfill two unusually large contracts, a situation he didn’t see repeating itself.
But he said he was “surprised” by the stop-work order because the ministry was informed each month of production levels at the quarry.
Which raises the question of how many other gravel pits in B.C. are exceeding permit levels, with the tacit approval of the ministry?
Froese said “over-mining is a common complaint of residents” living near gravel pits, but the Vedder Mountain group is focused only on a proposal by Kirkness to build a conveyor belt to haul gravel down the mountainside, not to the quarry itself.
“We’re not out to get Kirkness, that’s not our role,” Froese said. “We’re defending the citizen’s right to speak up about a project that would have severe impacts on people living near it.”
The conveyor proposal must first be approved by the ministry, and then rezoning requests approved by the city, which will require public hearings.