Burnco Rock Products Ltd. suffered a minor setback last week when Sunshine Coast Regional District (SCRD) directors delayed first reading of the company's rezoning application to process sand and gravel at McNab Creek.
First reading of the bylaw would "kickstart the full involvement of the SCRD in a very thorough review process that will explore all aspects of our application," Ken Titus, vice-president of Burnco's aggregate division, told the planning and development committee on Nov. 15. "The three levels of government, the community and Burnco can begin an open and honest dialogue to determine the viability and hopefully lead to a successfully approved operation."
The company's proposal to mine aggregate from McNab Creek is the subject of an environmental assessment at the federal and provincial levels. The SCRD can neither approve nor deny the mine operation, but Burnco needs the zoning on the 77-hectare site changed from rural to industrial in order to construct and operate a processing facility.
"We're now in the fourth year of planning for this project and let me assure you that we are very dedicated to our plan," said Derek Holmes, Burnco's regional manager for B.C. and spokesperson for the Howe Sound project.
Holmes said the processing operation - involving the crushing, screening and washing of rock - is an important component of the project.
"Quite frankly, to create another site for processing will create added cost for the end product, which doesn't make a lot of sense," he said. "We feel confident in our ability to process onsite, without having a negative impact on the area."
Holmes said Burnco is a leader in its field in controlled processing "and frequently operates in areas where it's crucial that noise be abated."
In the case of the McNab Creek facility, the company would use a special lining system and would also enclose the processing equipment, Holmes said.
"Controlling noise and dust is critical and Burnco has had success in doing both of these in a variety of places," he said.
The company has said there will be 12 full-time permanent jobs created by the $40-million project, and Holmes said he's confident the jobs can be filled locally.
"Without processing allowed on the site, the number of jobs would be reduced to three or four likely in total. Processing requires a greater number of workers and it's also the most expensive in terms of operating costs," Holmes said. "Many of these costs would translate into revenue for local business on the Sunshine Coast - things like parts, maintenance supplies, special contractors, water taxis carrying people back and forth, etc."
The projected lifespan of the operation is 20 to 30 years; after decommissioning it will be reclaimed as a freshwater lake.
Not only will Burnco protect the environment, Holmes said, but it will also continue to repair damage caused by other industrial uses in the past.
Both the company and SCRD staff recommended the committee approve first reading, so that public consultation could run parallel with the environmental assessment.
But, at the urging of West Howe Sound director Lee Turnbull, the committee voted instead to delay the decision until Burnco's application information requirement -the project's terms of reference for environmental assessment - is made public.
"We still don't know what the scope of the project is going to be," Turnbull said. "The other piece is the 48 letters we have received. There's not one asking for this project."
Another reason for delay, Turnbull said, was to give the SCRD an opportunity to discuss the proposal with the Squamish Nation.
In an interview with Coast Reporter, Chief Gibby Jacob said the Squamish Nation has acquired some funding to review the Burnco environmental assessment, and the review is now in progress.
"We get so many referrals, probably a couple of hundred a year, and some of them are pretty lengthy in process," Jacob said.
The Squamish will be looking for possible impact on reintroduced elk herds and mountain goats living at the top of the valley, Jacob said. "Anything that causes them to vacate their traditional area - that's problematic."
Consultants working for Squamish Nation will also study the effect on salmon habitat.
With final data still "a ways off," Jacob said, "we'd like to know what we're talking about" before drawing conclusions.
Jacob said the area around McNab Creek has strong personal importance to him.
"That area is where my family lineage is from," he said.
The Skwxwú7mesh (Squamish) place name for McNab Creek is "Kw'ech'ténm," which means "cutting fish place." Jacob acknowledged the area's beauty, but added: "All our territory is beautiful."
On the Future of Howe Sound Society's opposition to the Burnco proposal, he said: "I guess they expect taxes to pay for everything."
The application is expected to come back for first reading within two months.
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