How we got here: a timeline of the quarry proposal and local resistance

Many residents continue fight against quarry application

In late March, a public notice appeared in the print edition of The Observer. It was small, with unremarkable black print on a white background – not unlike many of the ads and notices printed in the newspaper on a weekly basis.

But this little notice, tucked into page five between a hop farm article and a concert ad, would create waves through the local communities, galvanizing residents of Agassiz-Harrison and raising serious questions about the power of citizen activism.

The Observer has created a timeline to summarize some of the biggest moments of the proposed aggregate quarry, starting long before resident opposition began.

An application for quarry operations on a mountainside between Agassiz and Harrison has led to a large scale resistance, with more than three times the population of Harrison Hot Springs signing an online petition.

– May 24, 2017: District of Kent (DOK) council received a staff report about an Agricultural Land Commission (ALC) inclusion application for 0.8 hectares of land at the rear of 3628 Hot Springs Rd., Agassiz.

The ALC is an independent administrative body tasked with protecting agricultural land from development. It makes decisions regarding what land can be included or excluded from the Agricultural Land Reserve (ALR).

This particular ALC application was made as compensation for a proposed transportation, utility and recreational trail that would allow access to the rear of the property for future mining activity, according to DOK Mayor John Van Laerhoven.

After the inclusion application was approved by DOK and the ALC, the applicant was required to obtain a District Official Community Plan (OCP) amendment to change the OCP designation from resource management to agricultural – a decision to be made by DOK.

– Aug. 9, 2017: A partnership of development companies under the name TC Merritt Valley Farms submitted a “notice of work” application to the province – the Ministry of Energy, Mines and Petroleum Resources. The application detailed a project plan for a construction aggregate quarry at 3628 Hot Springs Rd. – located 430 metres off of the busy public road.

Quarry Application Sign

Insane – a rock quarry being considered in the pristine tourism resort area of @harrisontourism #stopagassizharrisonquarry

— Canadian Roadrunners (@cndroadrunners) April 26, 2018

– Nov. 15, 2017: DOK adopted the bylaw amendments for the 0.8 hectares of land proposed to be changed to agricultural in the OCP.

According Van Laerhoven – who spoke on the issue at the April 23, 2018 council meeting – this amendment gave developers a better shot at approval for a proposed recreational trail that would allow rear access to the property, accommodating future mining activity. However, this “proposed trail” was not listed in the initial notice of work application.

– Feb. 16, 2018: DOK informed the ALC that “fill material” was being placed at the front of the Hot Springs Road property and sent in photos of the improper land use.

– Feb. 23, 2018: The ALC advised DOK that an ALC compliance and enforcement file had been opened regarding the Hot Springs Road property.

– March 16, 2018: District staff received the mining permit application referral request from the Ministry of Energy, Mines and Petroleum Resources.

– March 29, 2018: A “notice of work” ad was placed in The Observer and asked members of the public affected by or interested in more information about the application to “make written representation” to the Ministry of Energy, Mines and Petroleum Resources within 30 days of the notice.

READ: Application sent to province for quarry operations between Agassiz and Harrison

– April 13, 2018: After opposing citizens from both Harrison and Kent aligned on Facebook, a group called “Friends of Agassiz and Harrison Hot Springs” was formed and led by a small but active citizen committee.

READ: Agassiz Harrison residents mobilize to stop quarry operations

– April 17, 2018: An informal community information meeting was held at the Harrison Memorial Hall. Over 220 attended the meeting, where they listened to guest speakers, asked questions and signed printed petitions to be presented to the B.C. legislative assembly.

Representing the Village of Harrison council at the community meeting, Mayor Leo Facio took to the stage to express his opposition to the quarry, saying, “It’s very rewarding when people in our communities get together to bring initiatives to head and try to do something about it…We’re fully behind you.”

READ: Hundreds of Agassiz Harrison residents gather to oppose quarry application

– April 18, 2018: A petition opposing the quarry application was generated online and reached 2,200 signatures by April 23.

The petition – located on change.org – listed truck traffic, road safety, noise, dust, and potential health and environmental impacts as reasons for standing up against the application. It went on to reach 4,688 signatures by June 1, 2018 – more than three times the population of the Village of Harrison. The petition was eventually presented to the Ministry of Energy Mines and Petroleum Resources.

–April 18, 2018: Phase one of the committee’s campaign included the circulation of two petitions (one mentioned above) and a letter-writing campaign directed to the Ministry of Energy, Mines and Petroleum Resources.

The second petition was printed and garnered over 1,550 physical signatures before being presented to the B.C. legislature by Kent-Chilliwack MLA Laurie Throness.

– April 20, 2018: The ALC issued a stop-work order to the developers for fill storage (or non-farm use) on the land. Other construction operations continued, including residence and accessory building construction.

– April 23, 2018: Friends of Agassiz and Harrison appeared as a delegation at the District of Kent council meeting.

After a brief presentation about the concerns of residents and the work being done by the committee, key organizer Michie Vidal asked Van Laerhoven what the mayor and council’s position was on the proposed mine, and why that position had not been made public.

“Council has not adjudicated a decision at this time and is waiting for the other government agencies to receive feedback from the proponent/applicant as to whether they are meeting all of the requirements of compliance…” Laerhoven said.

He later cited the rules of local government, which prevent DOK from taking a position in case there is a need for a public hearing – a scenario in which the municipality needs to be neutral.

“Council would be putting themselves in jeopardy at this point if any one of council said we are opposed to the aggregate mine,” he said. “We will have put ourselves in a position of legal jeopardy and we will have put our citizens in a position of legal jeopardy with their pocketbooks.”

Van Laerhoven went on to say that DOK was continually monitoring the site to check for land-use compliance, and that he was legally unable to comment on certain elements of the situation.

“We have made considerable direct connections with others involved in this process and there are particular aspects of the district’s actions that I am not able to speak about publicly at this time due to the sensitive legal nature,” he said before acknowledging rumours that DOK was somehow helping the application reach approval.

“The district needs to make decisions, having clear minds without our minds being made up prior to hearing all of the facts when a decision needs to be made by us.”

– April 23, 2018: The final day for public feedback to be submitted to the Ministry of Energy, Mines and Petroleum Resources passed.

–April 26, 2018: Tourism Harrison and the Harrison Agassiz Chamber of Commerce issued statements expressing opposition to the quarry application.

Tourism Harrison said that placing a mine “at the gate of Harrison will seriously degrade the tourist experience” and nullify the millions “spent by the federal, provincial and local governments in the many improvements that have made Harrison the beautiful Village it is today.”

The Harrison Agassiz Chamber of Commerce said, “The Chamber is all for creating jobs but not at the cost of threatening the many hundreds of tourism and tourism-related jobs in the region.”

– April 26: An anti-quarry petition with 1,550 signatures was presented to the BC legislature by MLA Laurie Throness along with his own letter of opposition.

“Every project has to be compatible with the community that it affects,” Throness told The Observer. “…This [gravel pit] is so close to the community [and] it is so close to the residents who are going to be negatively impacted by blasting and crushing noises.”

Mission-Matsqui-Fraser Canyon MP Jati Sidhu also expressed his opposition, telling The Observer he didn’t believe the mine to be in the area’s best interest, and that he had written a letter to federal Fisheries Minister Dominic Leblanc to make his position clear.

“I believe that the negative environmental consequences of this project, particularly in regards [to] the local watershed and air quality, must be avoided,” Sidhu said via email.

READ: Local MLA, MP stand behind residents opposing quarry

– May 1, 2018: By the end of phase one, key organizer Michie Vidal said residents were as motivated as ever.

“I’m pretty impressed and overwhelmed with the way the communities have come together,” she said in a news release May 1.

The goal heading into phase two? “Share the message with as many elected officials as possible.”

READ: Proper engagement needed for quarry development: expert

– May 2, 2018: Phase two of the committee’s letter-writing campaign began. Letters from phase two were directed to the Ministry of Environment and Climate Change; the Ministry of Agriculture; the Ministry of Transportation and Infrastructure; the Ministry of Municipal Affairs and Housing; the Ministry of Tourism Arts and Culture; the Agricultural Land Commission; and Fisheries and Oceans Canada.

READ: Phase two of Harrison group’s anti-quarry initiative underway

– May 7, 2018: Friends of Agassiz and Harrison appeared as a delegation at the Village of Harrison council meeting, updating council on their work and asking for continued support.

– May 13-14, 2018: Members of the committee met with MP Jati Sidhu and Harrison Mayor Leo Facio at Sidhu’s office in Mission. Environmental impacts were discussed and Sidhu assured the committee that he was in contact with Oceans and Fisheries Canada about the potential impacts of the quarry – particularly on the endangered Salish sucker.

(From left to right:) Harrison resident and committee member Harold Bruins, Village mayor Leo Facio, Mission-Matsqui-Fraser Canyon MP Jati Sidhu, Harrison resident and key organizer Michie Vidal and committee member Judy Barron pose for a picture outside Sidhu’s Mission office after meeting to talk about the quarry proposal. (Submitted)

–May 22, 2018: Organizer Michie Vidal received a letter from the Minister of Energy, Mines and Petroleum Resources. Minister Michelle Mungall, assuring her that the statutory decision-maker will “carefully consider your concerns surrounding this proposed project.”

“The ministry takes this application seriously, and will consider and weigh all relevant information and perspectives while remaining committed to conducting a thorough and comprehensive review…” Mungall wrote, later stating: “…your engagement is crucial to our democracy.”

– May 29, 2018: The committee started phase three of its campaign with letters to the Ministry of Energy, Mines and Petroleum Resources and the Minister of Agriculture, requesting that the policymakers visit Harrison and the proposed quarry site, “to view first hand the devastating effects an aggregate mine would have on the communities of Agassiz and Harrison Hot Springs.”

– May 31, 2018: MLA Laurie Throness’s latest attempt at representing local quarry opposition included asking the Minister of Energy, Mines and Petroleum Resources to press her officials for a public meeting in Harrison so they can “see the impact of the mine on the ground and hear directly from local residents.”

During an address to Minister Michelle Mungall at the debates of the legislative assembly, Throness said he had received more correspondence on this issue than any other in his last five years of being an MLA. He asked about the status of the decision, saying, “there’s nothing that has been shared with us to date.”

Mungall told Throness that she didn’t have a lot of detail on the current timeline.

“The best person to ask would be the statutory decision-maker…” she said. “But our understanding is that he’s currently not in the decision-making stage. Rather, he’s consulting with people who would be impacted by his decision.”

Throness asked the minister to consider requesting the statutory decision-maker to travel to Harrison to hold a public meeting, but Mungall was adamant that her job was to stay out of the process.

“I think it’s very important for any minister of the day to fully respect the authority and decision-making and responsibilities of a statutory decision-maker, and I intend to do just that,” she said, adding that with any project there are ministry staff involved who go to the site of the project and “do their due diligence.”

“Sometimes [statutory decision-makers] hold community meetings, and sometimes they don’t. It’s, again, up to the statutory decision-maker in terms of whether they think that that’s an appropriate course of action or not.”

– June 7, 2018: Friends of Agassiz and Harrison Hot Springs continue to push back.

The committee launched a leaflet campaign to be sent out to local residents through mail, and is in the process of commissioning buttons for residents against the quarry.

The committee will present an update on its efforts to the Village of Harrison council at the regular June 18 meeting.

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