McNab Valley gravel mine project launched

Jenny Wagler / Staff writer
May 21, 2010 01:00 AM

An aerial view of the proposed project site taken in 2008. It shows the spawning channel constructed by Howe Sound Pulp and Paper in the lower alluvial area and McNab Creek behind the tree buffer.

Calgary-based BURNCO Rock Products Ltd., a ready-mix concrete company, is proposing to build a sand and gravel mine in McNab Valley, west of Port Mellon.

"We hope to be able to ship one million tonnes [of aggregate] a year," company operations manager Derek Holmes told the Sunshine Coast Regional District (SCRD) planning and development committee Thursday, May 13. "In comparison, [Sechelt's] Construction Aggregates, the largest pit in Canada, ships between five and six million tonnes a year. So it's really a fraction of the size."

The company is proposing to develop sand and gravel pits on approximately 77 hectares of the company's 320-hectare McNab Valley property, plus use an additional 10 hectares of the site for a processing plant, product stockpiles and conveyors, according to a report prepared by company consultant Golder Associates for the B.C. Environmental Assessment Office.

The report states that, based on preliminary estimates, the company expects the mine would have an economic life of 20 to 30 years and produce more than 30 million tonnes of sand and gravel.

At the SCRD meeting, company consultant Mark Johannes, an environmental specialist with Golder Associates, spoke about the project's potential impacts on nearby salmon habitat.

"The property's development, in terms of the aggregate, is not intended to be near or harm McNab Creek proper at all," he said.

According to the Golder Asso-ciates report, McNab Creek supports runs of chum, pink, coho and chinook salmon, plus resident and sea-run cutthroat trout and steelhead.

Johannes said the proposed project footprint would, however, remove an artificial groundwater channel that was constructed in the early 2000s in the centre of the property to provide spawning and rearing habitat for salmon. But that channel, he said, has not proved a very successful habitat and is continuing to decline.

"What's happened since it was first constructed is the banks are slowly eroding, and we know that the viability of the channel has declined," he said. "We found a seal in here that ate every adult salmon, all eight of them, in the channel this year."

Currently in the channel, he said, there are only two small areas where spawning habitat remains, because the rest of the channel is cloaked with fine sediment material.

"There are much, much, much better options for doing an enhancement and restorative project in and around McNab Creek, where the salmon populations are now [rather] than having this channel, which will not function in very quick order," he said.

In order to meet Department of Fisheries and Oceans requirements to cause no net loss to marine life and habitat, Johannes said, the company is proposing to replace the lost salmon habitat from the groundwater channel with new channels on McNab Creek proper.

"We have five concepts that would more than double the loss of this channel in terms of viable habitat," he said.

Johannes also stressed that no trees will be cut to accommodate the project.

"Every tree that's standing now will be maintained," he said.

Following the presentation, Halfmoon Bay director Garry Nohr told company representatives that the project will likely face sharp scrutiny, given Coast residents' difficult history with mining companies such as Pan Pacific Aggregates, which failed to clean up the environmental degradation at its East Porpoise Bay mine site.

"There's a lack of trust here on the Coast for some of the gravel outfits, so you just need to know that's going to be there," he said.

Following the company's delegation, McNab Creek Strata chairperson Troy Speedie briefly stated that the strata owners - who have property on the east side of the McNab Creek mouth - are opposing the project.

"We're trying to work with local government, the company, we're trying to learn as much as we can about the project, but generally we don't have a lot of faith in their mitigation measures. We think they're inadequate," he said. "And that the five pillars of the environmental assessment process -cultural, health, social, economic, environment and so forth -we believe as we understand the project, that it's going to have adverse negative affects to our community."

The company is currently in a pre-application phase, which will involve extensive stakeholder consultations and will include opportunity for public comment. According to a timeline in the Golder Associates report, the company is looking to submit its environmental assessment certificate application by January 2011, with a view to starting construction on the site in November 2011 and starting aggregate mining in September 2012.

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