MD of Willow Creek Municipal Planning Commission has refused an application to expand a gravel pit near Fort Macleod citing the fact it was in a flood plain, would negatively affect the aquifer, and the impact it would have on residents and neighbours including the Town of Fort Macleod.
The MPC reviewed an application Sept. 19 by McNab and Co. for a Class 1 gravel pit at the south half of 24-9-26-4.
Before any discussion began on the application, Reeve Henry Van Hierden and Coun. Ian Sundquist declared conflicts of interest and left the meeting because they both own gravel pits. They were also not present when the final decision was made.
Since Sundquist chairs the commission, deputy chair Glen Alm assumed the chair for the duration of the discussion.
A Class 2 gravel pit had been operating there, which allows less than 12 acres. The operation had grown, without the benefit of a new permit, so the MD of Willow Creek issued a stop order and requested the developers secure a permit for a Class 1 facility.
The expanded operation is in the flood damage reduction zone and crosses the municipality’s boundary into the Town of Fort Macleod. The total operation would be 40.8 acres including 23 acres in use now.
Hours of operation would be 7 a.m. to 7 p.m. Monday to Saturday.
Crushing has stopped on site, but in order to reclaim the site, stockpiled gravel has to be trucked out. Hauling has continued.
The application was initially heard on Aug. 15 but the MPC was recessed to Sept. 15 to consider all the information presented. On Sept. 12 the commission granted another extension to Sept. 19.
Dave and Bernadette McNab were present to speak to their application.
Dave McNab explained the project started 10 years ago. They received a licence for 12 acres from the MD of Willow Creek, but the Town of Fort Macleod turned down an application for 12 acres because of bridge and water issues.
McNab stressed they would do pump tests and better ones than required. He pointed to a map of the area and explained on the east side of a natural gas line seven acres had been reclaimed.
“We’ve had (Alberta) Environment out there,” McNab said, adding they have been working out there 33.5 years, since 1979. His goal is to have this operation for his sons.
McNab noted Tollestrup Construction, which operates the pit, can haul clay dirt fill to reclaim the land that can grow grass. Alberta Environment said the McNabs could leave a long tall hole, but they chose not to and will put back topsoil and seed the land back to grass.
The operation will stay back from watercourses 50 metres, when the requirement is 30 metres, and leave all trees.
McNab explained the application asks to keep some piles of gravel and sell and remove them as needed.
There is a watercourse in the area called the north channel, and there will be no mining west of that.
There will be a 1:8 slope created to build a place for processing grave to keep down dust and noise.
McNab said the Girl Guides, who have a camp nearby the operation, have been happy as neighbours.
Another watercourse, the middle channel, has a place where deer bed and is untouched.
McNab also emphasized a point about the pit.
“We are in control of our pit – not Tollestrup,” McNab said.
ATCO Gas has a pipeline nearby and that setback has been taken care of too.
Finally, McNab explained there is a land lock in the northeast corner of the land where water does not flow to the river, adding the back water has a lot of pike that people have fished as well as boated, kayaked, rode horses and other recreational activities.
Alberta Environment has told them to get permits and they have.
“They worked with us every day,” McNab said, adding the government is happy with the reclamation.
Bernadette McNab took over, explaining the potential flood hazard. She said the land adjacent to Highway 811 where stockpiles of gravel are has not flooded in their experience. Since they have been there since 1979 they know about flooding, cleaning up after, building berms around houses, and so on.
“We’re trying to plan this whole thing with flooding in mind,” she said.
The Oldman Watershed Council submitted a set of concerns and she addressed them.
Bernadette McNab said council seemed to think the development would cover 106 acres when that is the total land affected, and in fact 25 to 40 acres will be mined once setbacks, rights-of-way, and other requirements are met.
“There’s actually very few acres left to mine,” she said.
There was a concern about the impact on people downstream and McNab said there would be none.
“We haven’t had any negative impacts reported to us downstream,” she said.
As for the impact on water and groundwater, she said there would be none.
There was a question about codes of practice and McNab said some are in place while others are ready and awaiting a stamp of approval.
“Alberta Environment has said several times we’re a low risk pit,” she said.
Asked about toxins on site, she said there were none.
The watershed council asked about the economic benefits of the development, and McNab was not sure if that was within the council’s mandate to ask.
“We think we do impact the community,” she said. “There are a lot of businesses that service our business.”
A total of $289,000 was paid out to service the business in 2011, excluding what the McNabs realized.
Another question McNab wondered if the council had a mandate to ask was who would bear the cost of repairing roads. She said they would use highways the government said they can use for transportation in the province.
Dave McNab returned to the mike and said that regarding flooding, he had been through it before a few times. In 1995, his fence line was flipped, lots of garbage was left, and he cleaned it up, just as all land owners do.
“I’ll do it again if I have to,” he said.
Bernadette McNab then discussed documentation.
“A lot of reports have been done,” she said.
Those reports included a reclamation plan which was approved; a pit approval; groundwater environmental effects; a proximity agreement with ATCO; water testing done in 2011; more water testing in April of 2012 revealing no hydrocarbons in the water and no negative effects to the surrounding area; and an Alberta Environment approval for a pit licence.
“They’re ready to let us continue with this project, clean up what we started and complete it,” she said.
Dave McNab said his family has been in the area since 1883 when his grandfather arrived. McNab said he is with the land.
“I’m not here to wreck anything, that’s for sure,” he said. “I don’t want to wreck the water — it’s very important to us.”
Bernadette McNab said a soil analysis had been done. She also noted the project has been structured so the McNabs have more control with them holding the licence in their name and entering into an agreement with Tollestrup to operate the pit.
“We have more control of what happens there,” she said. “We think there are lots of safeguards in place.”
MD of Willow Creek chief administrative officer and acting development officer Cynthia Vizzutti then read the actual contents of the Oldman Watershed Council’s letter into the record.
Following that, Alex Vanee, a neighbour expressed his side.
Vanee cautioned the McNabs he meant nothing personally but had to look out for his own best interests.
Vanee said there is a dust problem, although a water truck came out but not until Sept. 13. He described the dust like a fog.
As for de-watering the pit, water does flow into the river.
Vanee also wondered how much economic benefit the community would receive, asking if most of it would go to the McNabs and Tollestrup anyway.
As for engineers and lawyers who had done reports, Vanee said the information came from Tollestrup who want the gravel so there is a bit of conflict of interest.
Bernadette McNab responded that a water truck had been out, and she had seen the road herself, noting it may need to go out more often.
“We can certainly do better,” she said.
McNab also replied Tollestrup employs an environmental engineer with a master’s degree, and water testing had been done by private companies, and approved by Alberta Environment.
She added the pit has a track record of no pollution, and emphasized their plan is tried, tested, and true because they have been doing this awhile.
McNab concluded by saying they were guilty of growing too big and exceeding the size of pit in the municipality but noted it was easy to lose track with all the piles.
Dave McNab added the McNabs own the land, gravel, and pit, contrary to a story circulating they bought gravel from Tollestrup.
“I’ve owned that since 1979,” he said.
He also stressed he can prove all the economic benefits, and would put all the paperwork on the table.
“We do over and above what (Alberta) Environment wants,” he said. “Nobody’s hiding anything.”
Coun. Ed Neufeld said he was part of the commission that approved the initial pit 10 years ago, and voted against it then. He asked how a pit that initially was supposed to provide gravel to fill in some pivot tracks and have some left over for neighbours to use grew so big.
Bernadette McNab replied the licence allowed them to sell any excess gravel they had.
At that point discussion was concluded.
At the end of the meeting, the commission went into closed session to discuss the application, with Van Hierden and Sundquist again declaring a conflict of interest and leaving the room.
When the MPC reverted to open session, it unanimously voted to refuse the application based on the fact it was in a flood plain, would negatively affect the aquifer, and the impact it would have on residents and neighbours including the Town of Fort Macleod.