The Vedder Mountain Preservation Group is claiming a victory for the public after a proposal to build a conveyor to haul gravel down the mountainside was withdrawn this week by the gravel pit owner.
“I think the citizens realize there is an opportunity to voice their concerns, and maybe a responsibility to do that,” said Victor Froese, spokesman for the group.
But leaving the monitoring of gravel operations to citizens is “not terribly reasonable,” Froese added, pointing to the “lack of transparency” and “lack of monitoring at all levels” the group discovered in its opposition to the proposal.
The group filed numerous freedom of information requests, which resulted in the discovery of permit violations that led to a temporary stop work order in January for over-mining.
Pit owner Bryan Kirkness told The Progress Tuesday that he saw “no end in sight” to the government red tape, and the resulting spiraling costs, so he decided to withdraw his application to the B.C. Mines Ministry and the Integrated Land Management Branch.
He also said a letter from the City of Chilliwack to the ministry led him to believe there was “no way” the project would ever get the zoning changes it required.
Chilliwack Mayor Sharon Gaetz said after the city was “accused” by the citizens’ group of sending the ministry inaccurate and incomplete information that could lead to approval of the project, a second “clarifying” letter was sent.
“It clarified that our position hadn’t changed, but it added details,” she said, including land-use restrictions in the geologically sensitive area.
In a terse, three-paragraph news release, Kirkness maintained the project would have reduced carbon emissions, reduced traffic on the Columbia Valley Highway and “injected several million dollars into the local economy.”
He also told The Progress that Cultus Lake residents, who would have benefitted from the reduction in truck traffic, never sent any letters supporting the project.
But from the start, Vedder Mountain Road residents vigorously opposed the proposed conveyor and “load-out site” at the foot of the mountain, saying it posed traffic and environmental hazards.
Froese said “much can be done” now to improve the approval process, including making it more transparent so it doesn’t take freedom of information requests for citizens to find out the facts.
He also called for more monitoring of gravel operations, by both the provincial and local governments.
“Leaving it to citizens, that’s not really terribly reasonable,” he said.
“We think Mr. Kirkness has acted responsibly in listening to the concerns,” he added, (but) “we will continue to monitor whatever else is proposed in the future. We’re not disbanding or anything.”