Facing a packed room of concerned faces, one Harrison resident stood at a microphone in the Memorial Hall Tuesday night.
“I’d like to know how it got to this point. How do we only have six days left?” he asked, baffled. “Six days is not enough time, we have a whole Village here.”
Someone quickly responded from the crowd, “we can do it!” and the hall erupted in applause.
Six days – until April 23 – is the amount of time Agassiz and Harrison residents have to oppose quarry operations proposed for a rocky hillside between the two municipalities.
A notice of work application was sent to the provincial government in August, 2017, seeking approval for a construction aggregate quarry on a rocky hillside 430 metres off of Hot Springs Road. But the public wasn’t officially notified until March 23, and given 30 days to send comments and concerns to the province.
And residents have certainly taken that to task. Facebook posts about the quarry application drew so much heat that a committee was formed, and a Facebook group created for news specific to the issue. Within a matter of days a meeting had been organized, and the original venue had to be changed as more and more residents decided to attend.
At least 200 locals filed into the hall Tuesday, filling every seat until some were left standing. Harrison resident Michie Vidal, one of the key organizers, took the stage to outline some main concerns around impacts on the environment, public health and the economy.
The proposed quarry – located 270 metres from the closest residence and 1.25 kilometres from the Village of Harrison entrance – would be the site of year-round blasting, crushing, sorting and mechanical screening, extracting an estimated 120,000 tonnes of mineable reserves per year.
Harrison council has taken an unreserved, defiant stance to the quarry, and mayor Leo Facio took the stage to read the letter he sent to the Ministry of Energy, Mines and Petroleum Resources.
The sound of blasting would “completely change the character of this quiet agricultural neighbourhood,” he read. “In addition we can expect a steep increase in industrial traffic to and from the site along with associated noise, dust and debris.”
Facio said that a quarry in that location undermines the province’s shoulder widening project for Highway 7 and 9 – designed specifically to attract cyclists and pedestrians.
“Permitting an aggregate mine in this location with all the…heavy equipment traffic, is in direct conflict with that objective,” he said.
“As far as I, as a mayor, and my council are concerned, this is a very serious issue for the Village of Harrison Hot Springs…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.”
Tourism Harrison executive director and Harrison Agassiz Chamber of Commerce president Robert Reyerse shared his concerns with the group too.
“There’s quite a few reasons, from a tourism perspective, that we are against this project as strongly as we can be,” he said. “This is…a horrifying project. It’s going to have an impact. It’s hard to know just what that impact will be. But what we do know, instead of seeing sort of a pastoral agricultural scene, you’re going to see this mountain scarred. You’re going to be in Harrison on the beach, listening to explosions.”
Reyerse told the crowd that the Chamber of Commerce directors voted unanimously in favour of standing against the project.
“The business of Harrison is tourism, the business of Agassiz is farming and this project is bad for both,” he said.
Levels of government
While applicant, TC Merritt Valley Farms, has made a formal application to the Ministry of Mines ETC., the quarry operations won’t start until approvals are granted from various other government bodies such as the Ministry of Transportation and the Agricultural Land Commission. As it stands, the proposed location is partially composed of land zoned as ‘resource management’ by the District of Kent, but a massive portion –about seven hectares– is in the agricultural land reserve.
Still, the land sits within District of Kent boundaries, and the municipality has not, or according to mayor John Van Laerhoven, cannot, indicate any sort of stance on the project.
“The District has to allow the senior governments to make their decision in matters that they have control over,” he told The Observer. “The District is not in the position to make decisions on mining operations.”
“The District has to be open minded and objective.”
For now, Van Laerhoven said his council is focused on monitoring the application process.
After some speakers and a brief question period, attendees lined up to sign petitions to be sent to the province.
Petitions state that the application should be denied for reasons including: increased traffic, safety and health concerns and environmental impacts.
The Ministry of Energy and Mines told The Observer that it cannot confirm a timeline for approval, as a statutory decision maker is in charge of reviewing the application and decisions from other ministries.