Monday July 19, 2010

Feature Story


A River Imperiled

CRV opposition to gravel pit should be unstoppable

Craig Hill/Voice


steady stream of about 160 Chilliwack River Valley Ratepayers met at the Fish and Gun Hall Thursday to discuss issues around Southview Sorting's proposed 40-year gravel pit mine at Larson's Bench.


The majority of people at the evening meeting were against the gravel pit and some were quite vociferous with their concerns backed by an agog audience. The overwhelming result the mine's got to go.


At the meeting, CRV residents, Glen Thompson, Orion Engar and Susan Federspiel, who form a group of environmental activists called Friends of the Chilliwack River Valley (FCRV) gave a slide presentation.


Engar and Federspiel laid out the issues the community faces if the gravel pit is approved, like traffic safety, tourism, water quality and fisheries that will impact residents should the pit proposal go through.

Engar told the packed hall that the Chilliwack River Valley is a watershed and other ones in the Lower Mainland are sacred, like the Coquitlam Lake reservoir, where their water is treated like gold.

"In the Coquitlam watershed they won't even let you walk there, you can't even hike in there, you can't fish in there and you certainly can't mine in there," he said emphatically.

Federspiel said during her part of the presentation, that even though the Chilliwack River's source is at the Chilliwack Lake, the water is still cold enough and has all the other attributes that fish need to breed.



Orion Engar talks about the CRV at Thursday's meeting.

"The aquifer, the ph level of the water, we've got gravel and what you need to make fish here and the river is out-produced only by the Fraser River in this area," said Federspiel.

Also on Thursday, Thompson said FCRV members met with Chilliwack Mayor Sharon Gaetz who listened to the group's concerns and added a few of her own.

"We wanted to explain to her all the different community interests and how Chilliwack is connected to Area E," said Thompson.

According to Thompson, Gaetz's concerns with the pit proposal and the costs of road repair, fish habitat and safety.

"She's concerned and supportive of what we're trying to do here and we were happy to see that," he said.

Thompson points out that most of the photos in Chilliwack's tourism magazine are of the CRV and as partners they should have each other's best interests at heart.

He said that the City is interested in more water and the Upper Chilliwack River aquifer might be the source as the city's population blossoms.

"They could, quite likely, need this resource and so we're trying to make them aware of it," said Thompson adding that the City will be writing a letter of concern and sending a representative to the meeting with Barry Penner, Minister of the Environment, Thursday to lobby against the pit.

                                                      Susan Federspiel gives presentation at the F&G Club Thursday.

The entire Chilliwack River Valley bottom is laden with gravel which acts as a filter for the underground aquifer on the lower part of the river. This is where the city draws its award-winning water from. The untested upper aquifer could add valuable fresh water resources but the area hasn't been tested to see how much water there actually is underground.

A previous gravel story in the Voice showed water gushing from a relief well in the freshet season which Engar says proves that there is water there.

The FCRV want a moratorium put on gravel removal pending the outcome of a 'real' hydrological assessment and environmental studies which the group says needs to be done.

The only water study done was by Madrone Engineering, hired by Southview, which states that "The evaluations contained in this report regarding terrain and hydrologic conditions and hazards are based on professional judgment, calculations, and experience in similar terrain. They are inherently imprecise. Geological and hydrological conditions other than those indicated above may exist on the site. If such conditions are observed, Madrone should be contacted so that this report may be reviewed and amended accordingly."

The report also says "The recommendations contained in this report pertain only to the construction plan as disclosed to Madrone at the time of inspection. This report was prepared considering circumstances applying specifically to the client. It is intended only for internal use by the client for the purpose for which it was commissioned and for use by government agencies regulating the specific activities to which it pertains. It is not reasonable for other parties to rely on the observations or conclusions contained herein."

Thompson said that Patricia Ross, Director and Chair of the Fraser Valley Regional District has thrown her support behind the FCRV as well.

Glen Thompson takes a break.

The gravel pit proposal is smack dab in the middle of an area that the FVRD is considering designating a red zone in the Aggregate Pilot Project strategy which maps out areas in green, yellow and red. The CRV and Larson's Bench are included in red zones which would be a no-go for gravel removal. The FVRD have called for public consultation in a meeting at a date in the near future.

Before the gravel pit gets the green light, it's has to get the nod from Penner and the thumbs up from Randy Hawes, Minister of Mines and Energy. There have been media reports that Hawes has already made up his mind and is going ahead with the proposal.

Some people in the community fear that due to the Liberal's low popularity, they'll be ousted in the next election, and are rushing to get things done now before their exodus from Victoria.

The FCRV are also looking at trying to get the CRV into the BC Parks system and stop the gravel pit that way. According to reports, an estimated 1.5 million users recreate in the area annually and the group feels it should be designated a "recreational corridor."

"To get actual park designation," explained Thompson, "it would require someone like Penner to bring it forward to the house or through a special order in cabinet, so we're hoping to find a sympathetic politician to do that on our behalf.

                                                                               NDP candidate Gwen O'Mahony file photo.


Thompson also has support from Sto:lo who came out against the project. "Larry Commodore from Soowahlie Nation is against it and he's pretty influential in that community," said Thompson.

The land that the proposed gravel pit sits on, is crown land, and so the Sto:lo won't be receiving any royalties from the aggregate removal but they were getting royalties from the Tamahi logging operation until they opted out of the agreement and Thompson says each member of the Soowahlie band loses $500 a year because of that.

Gwen O'Mahony, federal NDP candidate for the Chilliwack-Fraser Canyon riding, was at the meeting and has been against the project from the beginning. She feels that she can put added pressure on the feds and is looking at ways to do that through the Department of Fisheries and Oceans in terms of fish habitat and the environment.

But O'Mahony isn't very optimistic about the way the system currently works. She says it's not designed to hear what the people want and it doesn't matter if the public or politicians oppose it or not.


"That's the problem, you could have a public consultation process which we hear is supposed to happen, and hasn't happened yet, then what?"

"If a community doesn't want to have a gravel pit in operation who can help them out if you get a strong opposition?" she said. "Just take a look at this room full of people, what are their recourses, because right now there doesn't seem to be much of anything that can be done to stop it."

Ed Baye, Federal Green party Candidate for the Chilliwack-Fraser Canyon riding told the Voice that he is against the gravel pit and mentioned "civil disobedience" with a laugh.

"I'm absolutely against it 100-per-cent," said Baye. "It's not the right place to do it, they can bring in gravel from areas not so populated, it's just ridiculous to take it out of here."

"They'll wreck the roads and just ruin it for people using the park facilities at Chilliwack Lake and it all comes down to money and big cement companies, gravel users and construction people who know that it's cheap up there in the valley."

If the the proposal does get the go-ahead, Baye said the price to them should be dear.

"They should charge$10,000 tolls per loaded dump truck and $5000 for it's pup."

Unfortunately, Baye said the Green Party hasn't any elected members and hence don't have much clout so they can't bring much pressure on a federal level but that can change in the future.

Jamie Hoskins, CEO Chilliwack-Fraser Canyon Green Party Riding Assoc. is against it also. Hoskins is a promising young candidate being mentored by Baye and says he has been following the gravel pit issue for quite a while because he take his family into the CRV to recreate.

What got me interested in the issue was that I take my little son up in the area, we play at the river, we climb mountains, and over the last little bit I noticed that both sides of the road were logged out," he said.

Hoskins continued saying that there was a hike on Mt. McFarlane he was planning on taking his son on not far from Pierce Lake.

"The whole idea is I want to take my 2-year-old and plant a 2-year-old tree so that when he grows up he can go back up to that spot on the mountain and see the tree grow, and the trail head was logged over," explained Hoskins.

"Then I find out they are putting this gravel pit in the area and I went up to those meetings and I've been listening to what's going on frankly it's a little bit demoralizing that this is just being shoved through, there's no real debate over it," he added.

The one sure thing with the gravel pit issue is, that this isn't over yet. Stay tuned.

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Green Party photo: Michael Clarke (L), Jamie Hoskins (C) and candidate Ed Baye (R).


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