Sparks fly before public hearing on gravel bylaw starts

Residents opposed to a bylaw mapping out future gravel pit locations in the Fraser Valley take to the Internet as public hearing announced.

Sparks are already flying as a bylaw to regulate gravel mining in the Fraser Valley Regional District goes to public hearing next week.

But there will not be a vote to adopt the bylaw at the June 26 meeting, which will go back to FVRD directors and staff for further work that could take the rest of the year to complete.

“The newly developed bylaw will protect our region’s most sensitive areas and ensure that any gravel removal is carried out in the most sustainable and environmentally sound manner that has our public’s best interest in mind,” FVRD chair Sharon Gaetz said in a news release announcing the Chilliwack meeting.

But Walter Neufeld, president of the FVRD Citizens Association, said unless the FVRD “moves rapidly to introduce measures for accountability, inclusion and transparency, it seems probable that impacted residents … will take the gloves off.”

He charged that FVRD directors are “being used as corporate whips to clear the way for corporate profit at the expense of ordinary citizens, their rights and the environment which sustains us all.”

Even before Gaetz’s release, residents opposed to the Aggregate Pilot Project – which proposes a tri-colour mapping scheme where future gravel pits may be allowed – were scrapping with MLA Randy Hawes by email.

Hawes is a former FVRD chair and Minister of State for Mining who started APP negotiations back in 2004 with the gravel industry, the FVRD and the B.C. government.

But those negotiations took place behind closed doors, with no public input, a fact that continues to irritate residents and raise allegations of collusion.

Lake Errock resident Tony Rees sent an email last week urging FVRD residents to attend the Chilliwack meeting and protect the region’s water resources, which he believes are endangered by gravel mining.

“This plan was devised behind closed doors with no impacted Fraser Valley residents involved, and not surprisingly it does not address community concerns, such as noise, air and water pollution, traffic problems, the dismal record of regulation compliance of operators, lowering of property values of residents, and the irreversible destruction of water resources,” he said.

Lake Errock resident Reg Longmore accused Hawes in another email of political “double-speak” and “hiding the true facts” about the APP.

“You have yet to give a satisfactory answer as to why the public were never allowed to participate in ‘behind closed door meetings’ that the aggregate industry were so obviously guiding,” Longmore wrote.

But Hawes shot back that Longmore was “fear mongering,” when the APP will only increase the “scrutiny” of gravel pit operations.

“The APP does not decrease the scrutiny that now takes place by the Ministry of Environment, DFO, and others and the same standards are to be met whether there is an APP or not,” Hawes wrote. “I fail to understand why you persist in spreading these falsehoods.”

He said the APP is about planning future gravel operations, and gives local governments “much more say” in permit conditions over removal operation like noise and dust control.

But to date there has been no government remedy proposed, local or provincial, to the operations of existing gravel mines that lie behind much of the public anger.

FVRD directors have said publicly in the past that the gravel industry would not negotiate, if public representatives were included in the talks. The courts have to date favoured the gravel industry in court cases launched by the FVRD.

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