Chairperson, Regional District of Nanaimo
Gravel extraction in the RDN - "caught between a rock and a hard place"
"Caught between a rock and a hard place." That phrase just about sums up the difficult situation facing local residents and the Regional District of Nanaimo after BC's Ministry of Energy and Mine's recent approval of approval of a rock quarry on Jameson Road in the RDN's Electoral Area 'D'.
A big part of this mess was an earlier promise from Energy and Mines Minister Dan Miller. Two years ago he wrote to homeowners in the area affected by the proposed quarry stating that a permit would not be approved unless it met local land use regulations.
Then in early October, we learned that the Chief Inspector of Mines had approved the application for a quarry permit, subject to addressing health and safety concerns. This news upset and angered local residents who have valid concerns about the impact of the quarry on their water supply, quality of life, and property values. Likewise, the Regional Board is frustrated by the Province's decision to proceed with approval for the quarry. The RDN had completed a two-year Aggregate Study and was developing a Soil Removal and Deposit Bylaw that would limit gravel extraction and quarry development to suitable non-residential areas. We had proceeded with an understanding with the Ministry of Energy and Mines that they would work with us to better plan for and regulate quarry or aggregate activities in the regional district.
So, what can be done now to resolve this difficult situation and what kind of jurisdictional issues have to be overcome? Property owners and residents in the East Wellington neighbourhood affected by the proposed quarry have done their share by getting the attention of the Premier by protesting at the Legislature in Victoria. Last Tuesday, the RDN Board met with Minister of Energy and Mines and the Chief Inspector of Mines and detailed the problems of overlapping jurisdictions, with the Province having no requirement to recognize the RDN's community plans or zoning bylaws.
On the surface, the issue seems simple: quarries or gravel extraction shouldn't be permitted in rural residential areas or environmentally sensitive lands. But the Mines Act, which regulates sand and gravel pits and quarries, exists to facilitate the industry and set conditions so they operate safely. It does not adequately consider or address local land use concerns. And while for many people a quarry or gravel pit is an environmental eyesore, it's a valuable resource that is vital to building and maintaining roads, buildings, and other infrastructure.
Our Growth Management Plan provides an opportunity for the Province and the Region to develop a solution that limits new gravel extraction and quarry activity to "resource" designated areas of the RDN, and only accommodates them in rural residential areas in exceptional circumstances and under specific controls. I believe the Province supports this approach but Provincial legislation will need to be changed to make it work.
An Aggregate Advisory Panel has been appointed by the Minister to review the planning, permitting, and management of sand, gravel and rock mining sector in B.C. They are coming to the region and are scheduled to hold a meeting on November 6 in Nanaimo. The RDN Board will have a special meeting with this panel, and RDN residents can be assured that their concerns and the practical solution I have outlined will be made loud and clear.