Friday December 3, 2010

Local News

Bullied By Bureaucracy

Lackadaisical legislature, gov't staff cutbacks to blame for lack of APP discussion



he NDP came out in force Wednesday to back residents and activists by hosting a meeting with the community in Yarrow regarding the state of the gravel conflict happening at all points on the compass in the Upper Fraser Valley. Aggregate producers are slowly tightening the nooses on several community's necks in the Upper Fraser Valley and the people are fighting back tooth and nail.

Federal Candidate Gwen O'Mahony was at the meeting and told the Voice in an e-mail the following morning that the Yarrow Community Hall was full.

"We, the local NDP constituencies and I, hosted this event to provide a venue in which concerned individuals could not only present their concerns to an elected representative of the Legislature but have an opportunity to actively engage with him," said said adding that "Last night, I feel that we were successful in doing just that."

O'Mahony said the panel Wednesday consisted of Walter Neufeld, Local Control Advocate; Glen Thompson, Founder of Friends of CRV; Cynthia Berge, ACES Director; and Rob Fleming, NDP Critic for the Environment.

Other NDP representatives present at the meeting included; Al Ens, local Federal Party President; Cliff Roulston, local constituency president MLA for Maple Ridge; Michael Sather, who is also the constituency president for his riding and critic for the environment; and past provincial NDP candidate Lynn Perrin for Mission

According to O'Mahony, critic Rob Flemming, blamed big cutbacks in staffing to both the environment and mines ministries and also said that the legislature doesn't meet often enough to get the issues up for debate. Flemming plans to tour the gravel pit areas.

FVRD directors Dave Lamson, Dennis Adamson and Wendy Bales were also at the meeting.

The APP has mapped-off areas in green for aggregate removal and red zones as no-go zones.

The gravel mine problems facing Lake Errock, Harrison, Vedder Mtn. and the Chilliwack River Valley have all come about as a result of the Aggregate Pilot Project (APP) that Randy Hawes, Minister of Mines, has been pushing ahead with despite activists and residents' concerns who are now backed into the corner.

Each community has a different set of problems with the new gravel pits in their areas, but the common thread running through them all are environmental issues, with the exception of the Vedder Mountain conveyor belt, where residents feel that it will erode the mountainside and cause rock and mud slides to happen.

The Ministry of Mines has been a tough nut to crack. Those working to stop gravel companies, who they see as rampaging bulls in an environmental china shop, have been pulled into meeting after meeting and forced to spend hours studying things like hydrological assessments and environmental reports.

As each door gets slammed in their face, the community grows more frustrated and impatient. With each wall they hit, the tempo of their adversity increases. So far, when community activists found themselves cornered and bullied by bureaucracy,  they've come out swinging each time and backed by dozens of concerned residents.

Today, a scheduled protest which would have started in Lake Errock and ended at Randy Hawes office on 1st Avenue in Mission, was called off at the last minute yesterday "to give negotiations a chance", after FVRD Area E Director David Lamson indicated that there was some wriggle room in the APP, which he supports, for demands that local groups like Area C Environmental Stewards and FCRV are making.

Glen Thompson, founder of the Friends of the Chilliwack River Valley put together what he calls the Aggregate Supply Plan which is an alternative to the APP.

From the perspective of activists, any compromise in their position would mean gravel extraction would still take place, but Thompson insists that the entire CRV is a no-go for gravel and summed up their position to the Voice in an e-mail yesterday.

"As to CRV, we view all of Area E as a no-go for gravel companies and our negotiating position is no gravel here and for (Brent) Tolmie to be compensated and moved," said Thompson.

"The Cultus pit can be grandfathered but the new Yarrow portion should be shut down without compensation and the City of Chilliwack, we believe, should return the money that Kirkness gave them for the property."

If the groups can gain any concessions at all in the APP, then that would be better than none at all.

In an earlier press release, Thompson said that Fraser Valley Regional Area E Director Dave Lamson supports FCRV's call for a "boycott of conflict gravel."

"The Boycott would include gravel produced on sites that are in violation of Regional Bylaws and areas that the Province has stated is inappropriate for extraction due to habitat concerns. The Boycott asks all levels of gov't to use their market weight to end Conflict Gravel by passing procurement policies that prohibit the purchases."

Thompson said they were surprised by Lamson's willingness to bend on the APP saying it's flawed and needs "a lot of changes" quickly and he looks forward to working out the sticking points in the APP as soon as they can.

The CRV's Aggregate Supply Plan counters the province's gravel proposal which "is controversial because it creates so-called Green Zones where open pit gravel extraction can take place without needing a permit or public consultation, and the mines will be exempt from environmental protections that limit other industries such as forestry."

Thompson credited Lamson for his work with the Chilliwack River Action Committee who have provided over a $1-million worth of habitat restoration work in the CRV over the last 10-years.

"By supporting the community initiated ASP we can stop the APP. Lets make sure the APP is the last Natural Resource Extraction proposal that has no environmental protection," said Thompson.

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