‘Burnco project is a catch-22’

West Howe Sounder

Upon Ian Winn’s appointment as vice-chair of the Sunshine Coast Regional District last week, I asked him to suggest a topic for this column. He steered me toward an issue at the top of his mind that can have huge effects on West Howe Sounders: the Burnco aggregate project.

The plan for gravel mining and processing at McNab Creek is being assessed by the provincial government, which is seeking public comments on the project. 

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Winn has served as SCRD director for Area F for the past three years. The area, encompassing the mainland of West Howe Sound, as well as Keats and Gambier islands, is mostly rural, but it also contains more concentrated residential areas as well as industrial sites. The mix presents a problem when an issue like Burnco comes forward. 

It’s a case of small population versus large population. Or in the words of Kate-Louise Stamford of the Islands Trust, “The Burnco project is a catch-22.” 

That’s because the proposed aggregate processing facility requires rezoning of the Burnco lands at McNab Creek. The rezoning issue is yet to be decided by the SCRD. The outcome would have very different results for McNab Creek residents as opposed to the larger population that live on Gambier Island. 

The industrial rezoning Burnco seeks would allow it to crush the gravel it mines at the McNab Creek site. That would create lots of dust and noise, to the consternation of nearby residents, Stamford said on the phone Nov. 10. 

Residences on the mainland of West Howe Sound are only 500 metres away from the mining site. They include about 15 recreational homes and at least one full-time residence. The Gambier area is at least four times as populous. Two kilometres from Burnco, northern Gambier includes 60 homes, two yacht clubs and Camp Latona. 

Stamford said crushing noise and dust from gravel processing would be much worse for Burnco’s nearest neighbours in the McNab area. On the other hand, if the SCRD refuses the zoning application, marine problems and loading noise would probably be worse for the larger population on Gambier, said Stamford, who represents Gambier Island in the Islands Trust. 

If the site becomes industrial, up to 180 barges of processed gravel would plow through Howe Sound every year, and 180 empty barges would return to Burnco’s dock at McNab. 

If the rezoning application were quashed, Stam-ford said, Burnco could mine but not process its gravel on site. Therefore, Burnco might have to increase the number of barge loads because large chunks of uncrushed rock take a lot more transport space than fine bits of gravel. Also, big rocks make more noise than little ones. 

The result: a higher potential for marine traffic problems and more noise in the loading process. Incidentally, because low water temperatures bend sound waves, noise amplifies across water. 

In the yes-to-rezoning scenario, Stamford said, a possible lower but near-constant crushing noise as the rocks are processed would probably be much more bothersome to the McNab Creek residents than intermittent loading sounds. And the dust would form most densely in the mine’s immediate neighbourhood. 

So we’re damned if we do, and damned if we don’t. It’s lots of noise and barges bothering Gambier or it’s lots of dust and noise in McNab Creek. It’s the relatively large (60-home) population of Gambier versus the relatively small population on the mainland near the mine. 

Winn represents both areas. 

Maybe with his input the SCRD can come up with a creative third way to resolve this conundrum. In the meantime, West Howe Sound residents are urged to send their comments on the project to the BC Environmental Assessment Office by Nov. 27. 

A search for “Burnco aggregate comments” will take you to the submission site. And while you’re on the computer, please email Elizabeth@rains.ca with any news you’d like to see in this column.

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