Protect Our Waters: help us stop this pit (part 2)

Disclaimer: I only learned on Feb 25th that this project is proceeding to the next level, so any errors I make in the information I present here are my own. In my first post on this, I had originally indicated there were two proposed mine sites. I have since clarified with the county that there is only one. My apologies for this mistake!

Okay! I already know enough about this proposed project, and I want to oppose it, what do I do?

The deadline to respond to this proposal was originally set for February 29th, but has been extended to March 6th. The county of Lac Ste. Anne has sole discretion at this point to approve or deny the proposal. They need to hear from you!

Please contact:

Tanya Vanderwell

Development Officer, Planning & Development Department

Lac Ste. Anne County

tvanderwell@lsac.ca

Reference this: Development permit: Gravel extraction and processing, NW, SW & SE 35-53-05 W5M, NW & SW 36-53-05 W5M, Lac Ste. Anne County.

If you live in the county of Lac Ste. Anne or in the county of Parkland, and you would be impacted by this gravel pit, please ensure you explain this. Also include whether or not you were ever informed of this project by the T & T Sand and Gravel, as they have claimed they hand delivered 150 notices to residents.

If you visit Lake Isle, or Lac Ste. Anne, please also contact the county and let them know how the health of these lakes is important to you. If you exercise Aboriginal rights in these areas to pick medicines, to fish, to practice your spirituality (especially relevant to Lac Ste. Anne) please also mention that this project impacts those Aboriginal rights. Assert that the Duty to Consult is triggered by this project!

Here are some of the other arguments you can make, if they apply to you:

  • The proposed site is within the Lake Isle watershed, which also feeds into Lac Ste. Anne. Despite all proposed mitigation activities, it is impossible to guarantee the safety of Lake Isle and any flow of sediments into the Lake will negatively impact fish and water health of both Lake Isle and Lac Ste. Anne. Although not directly adjacent the lake, the guarantee of impact through sediment and airborne particulates, should trigger the Water Act and the Environmental Protection Enhancement Act, despite claims in the proposal for the pit to the contrary.
  • The cumulative effects of gravel pits on aquifers in the area, even when the pit is a “dry” pit (i.e. does not pierce the aquifer itself) are such that the aquifer will be impacted regardless. This threatens the water supply of residents well outside the proposed site, and is an unacceptable impact.
  • First Nations and Métis people have the constitutional right to be consulted when projects have the potential to negatively impact the exercise of Aboriginal rights. Those rights in this case include the picking of medicines in the areas of Lake Isle and Lac Ste. Anne, fishing, and the spiritual practices of First Nations and Métis who have been gathering at Lac Ste. Anne for thousands of years, without interruption.
  • Residents in the area were not adequately informed, much less consulted, despite claims to the contrary.
  • This gravel pit will negatively impact property values for adjacent properties, but also for lake-shore properties, and properties well outside the area. The noise, lights, heavy traffic and potential disruption to the aquifer will cause potential purchasers to go elsewhere.
  • Traffic safety in the area is a huge concern for local residents. Traffic fatalities caused by gravel trucks have happened in other areas, including one incident in southern Alberta where a gravel truck slammed into a school bus. The rural roads in this area are not adequate for the traffic this huge project will need.
  • This operation requires shift workers to reside on site to keep operations going 24/7 when possible. There is no mention in T & T’s proposal for any security to be available on site and in many areas where such “man camps” are set up, sexual violence against Indigenous women and children sky-rocket. This absolutely MUST be an issue addressed by the county.
  • The proposal does not benefit the county. The only way in which the county could possibly benefit would be through a royalty sharing agreement, or through purchasing gravel for use within the county. However, as with most of these operations, the bulk of the gravel will be sold to large municipalities, such as Edmonton and Calgary. The benefits will flow outside the county leaving only the detriment of decreased property values, degradation of the environment, animal habitats, quality of lake water, negative impacts on the aquifer, health and safety hazards for local residents and the disruption of a sacred site to Aboriginal peoples.

The history of this project so far

214131 Enterprises Ltd., operating as T&T Sand and Gravel, have proposed an open pit gravel operation close to Lake Isle (also known as Isle Lake) in the county of Lac Ste. Anne, about 70 km west of Edmonton. This specific area lies directly on a boundary between Lac Ste. Anne and Parkland counties.

This open pit gravel mine (aggregate pit operation) will cover 5 quarter sections which is 800 acres of land, and will operate for 25 – 30 years. Here is a map of the proposed mine site, in pink.

newmap6_135328_Fotor

Lake Isle feeds Lac Ste. Anne, which is a special gathering place for many First Nations and Métis, and has been for thousands of years. Lake Isle and Lac Ste. Anne are in poor health, experiencing annual cyanobacterial blooms (blue-green algae) that threaten human and animal health.

The proposed site sits directly atop a creek that feeds Lac Ste. Anne and is within the Lake Isle watershed. Thus the health of two lakes are implicated.

This project is actually an expansion of an existing pit in the neighbouring Parkland county, located on the northeast quarter of section 26, Township 53, Range 5, west of the 5th Meridian. It is on 160 acres, just off the bottom of this map, between range roads 51-52. I will post pictures of the existing operation when I can.

The extension encompasses the NW, SW & SE quarters of section 35, as well as the NW & SW of section 36 Township 53, Range 5 west of the 5th Meridian.

You can read the entire permit application here: Redacted Application – Compressed(1)

The application states “no major water bodies are located within the vicinity of the Pit”. “Vicinity” is being read very narrowly to only include the internal boundaries of the pit itself. In fact, Lake Isle is only a little more than one quarter section away from the proposed mine site.

Lack of consultation on this project

  1. T & T Enterprises say they hand delivered approximately 150 letters to residents in the area back in April of 2015, informing them of the intention to apply for a Development Permit. However, residents contest this claim. In one case, a resident found the notice stuffed into a gate post, and it was only luck that it was seen at all. Other residents near the proposed site were not ever informed, as they live within neighbouring Parkland county.
  2. A similar notice was published in the Lat Ste. Anne Bulletin in April. These notices indicated a town hall meeting would be held on April 29th, 2015.
  3. Seven people attended the townhall meeting. The implication here is that residents did not care about the proposal. It is much more likely that few residents were aware of the townhall meeting despite claims of hand delivered letters, and a small notice in a local bulletin.

The seven people that did attend all voiced various concerns. As one resident puts it, none of the adjacent landowners are relaxed about, or in favour of the proposal.

No consultation with First Nations or Métis

Because the proposed land is held privately, it is “White Zone” or “White Area” and only the adjoining properties are looked at when determining potential adverse impacts. Since the proposed site is not adjacent to a reserve, T &T can claim that the Duty to Consult was not triggered.

However, this does not take into account site-specific impact on Aboriginal rights to Lac Ste. Anne itself, which is fed by Lake Isle. Any impact the proposed mine has on Lake Isle, is also an impact on Lac Ste. Anne. The Duty to Consult should be triggered by this fact. Lac Ste. Anne in particular is of immense significance to First Nations and Métis.

Gravel pits not environmentally benign

Three years ago, a gravel pit near Edmonton flooded, allowing sediment from berms, and the gravel pit, along with other dirtier materials from the pit operation, to make their way into the North Saskatchewan river. This has resulted in close to a 50% decline in fish populations below the pit site.

No amount of preparation can guarantee that this kind of thing will not happen to Lake Isle. Proximity is directly related to the potential adverse effects, and the proposed site is simply too close to the Lake to be considered safe.

The cumulative effects of gravel pit operations include:

  • modifications to the hydrologic cycle locally
  • change in aquifer water levels and redistribution from aquifers to surface water
  • changes in groundwater flow paths
  • poor quality groundwater flow downwards after dewatering
  • contamination of groundwater due to surface exposure
  • removal of filter material in aquifer

Alberta does a very poor job of monitoring and addressing cumulative impacts of gravel pit operations. We cannot rely on the province to ensure the safety of groundwater, or of the lakes and streams that will be impacted by these projects.

In addition, though mitigation with regards to airborne particulates (dust) in included in this gravel pit proposals, there is no system in place to adequately monitor this. Airborne particles from the gravel pit can and will travel wherever the wind takes them, depositing these particulates into the water of the Lake, and into the lungs of local residents and wildlife. There is very little research yet available on the impact of breathing in these particulates over the course of a gravel pit’s 25-30 year life. Given the size of this proposal and given that there are other gravel pits only a few kilometres away, the potential for adverse health impacts and the unavoidable impact on water quality, makes this project a certain hazard.

I will continue to post updates on the proposed project HERE.

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2 Responses to Protect Our Waters: help us stop this pit (part 2)


  1. MY LETTER TO THE COUNTY:

    Re: Development permit: Gravel extraction and processing, NW, SW & SE 35-53-05 W5M, NW & SW 36-53-05 W5M, Lac Ste. Anne County.

    tânisi,

    Here is my full response to the development permit for the Bamber pit.

    This is my summary:

    The proposal should be rejected because:

    * The Duty to Consult is triggered by the inevitable impact of sediments and airborne particulates on the health of Lake Isle which feeds Lac Ste. Anne. Lac Ste. Anne is the site of the exercise of strong and uninterrupted Aboriginal rights.

    *Due to proximity to Lake Isle, as well as being directly within the Lake Isle watershed, the proposal need not be directly adjacent to the Lake to trigger the Water Act and the Environmental Protection Enhancement Act, both of which apply to this project.

    *Negative impacts on the local aquifer.

    *Few benefits to the county, and no benefits to local residents. Increased danger to local residents.

    *Inadequate notification to local residents.

    I grew up in Lac Ste. County, near the proposed site of a greatly expanded gravel pit. I left to go to school in Edmonton, where I earned a Bachelor of Education and a law degree, but continued to come home as often as possible. For the last seven years I have been living with my husband and children in Montreal, but we have been planning to my parent’s property this summer. It is so important to me that my children grow up within our territory, on the land as I did.

    I begin with this, because rural exodus is a serious issue. Counties that wish to remain vibrant, need to consider how to attract families TO rural areas rather than drive them into urban centres. Gravel pits, like the one proposed, act as a serious deterrent to those who wish to relocated to rural areas, or return to them. The noise, the lights, the disruption and the dust, are all issues which greatly concern me as we plan our move.

    I am Métis, and my family is originally from the Lac Ste. Anne Métis community. We continue to have strong ties to Isle Lake, Wabamun Lake and Lac Ste. Anne. All three of these lakes are interconnected by streams and creeks, and are within the traditional territory of the Lac Ste. Anne Métis, as well as within the traditional territory of Cree and Stoney peoples. As you know, Lac Ste. Anne has been an important gathering place for First Nations and Métis people for thousands of years. Annual visits to the lake have gone on uninterrupted, for all that time. First Nations from as far as the Northwest Territories and Montana make the annual Pilgrimage, and many non-Indigenous people have joined us, ever since Oblates founded a mission on the shores of Lac Ste. Anne in 1843.

    Although this proposal is on private lands, and not adjacent to a reserve, and thus does not appear to trigger the Duty to Consult, it is my opinion based on my legal training, that the inevitable impact from a gravel pit this close to Lake Isle (which feeds Lac Ste. Anne) will impact Aboriginal rights and thus does trigger that duty. As there has been no consultation with First Nations or Métis, this duty has not been satisfied by this proposal. Alexander, Paul and Alexis First Nations all have dedicated personnel to address Duty to Consult issues, and none of these people have been contacted or even informed about this proposal.

    The proposed site is within the Lake Isle watershed, and in close proximity to the Lake itself. Isle Lake is not in good health as it is, and thus is particularly vulnerable to any sediments that could be washed into the lake from the gravel pit. Three years ago a gravel pit near Edmonton flooded, and washed sediment into the North Saskatchewan river, depleting fish stocks in that area by 50%. The river has still not fully recovered from this. You can read about that situation here: http://www.cbc.ca/news/canada/edmonton/plummeting-fish-stock-in-north-saskatchewan-river-prompts-calls-for-inquiry-1.3469522

    There is no possible way, given the proximity to the lake, that T & T can guarantee sediments will not be washed into the lake either via flooding, or through the settling of airborne particulates. Abatement strategies like those listed in the proposal are never completely effective. Further, there are no mandatory monitoring strategies to ensure “acceptable levels” of airborne particulates, much less a mention of how T & T would monitor the level of particulates that settle into the lake. Because there is a guaranteed impact on the lake due to these particulates and the potential of sediments through drainage, it is my opinion that this project triggers the Water Act and the Environmental Protection Enhancement Act, regardless of what is claimed in the proposal.

    Although this proposal is for a “dry pit”, there are cumulative impacts on the hydrologic cycle locally which must be taken into account. Even absent a piercing of the aquifer, removal of filtering material will adversely impact the aquifer and thus the water supply for all residents that rely on it. In addition, there is a potential for groundwater contamination and changes in groundwater flow paths. Ensuring that well water remains plentiful, safe and available to residents, must be the county’s highest priority.

    Property values will also be impacted by such a huge pit. The county has a duty to deny projects of minimal value to the county and of no value to its residents.

    Property values are not only impacted by the noise, light pollution and dust that will inevitably come with a gravel pit of this size, there are also other important considerations. Fatalities on rural roads after collisions between gravel trucks and local traffic, have already happened in Alberta. In one such instance, a gravel truck slammed into a school bus, killing a student. The roads in the area of the proposed pit are not adequate for the level of traffic that will be required, and thus pose a real danger to local traffic, and to local lives. My own children will be riding school buses in the area, and it absolutely terrifies me that they could be put at risk like this.

    Another issue, completely avoided in the proposal, is the issue of security with regards to shift workers who must be camped on site when the pit is in operation 24/7. A similar camp exists just a few kilometres away, towards highway 16 in the county of Parkland. Trailers are on site and shift workers come and go. As a parent, and particularly as an Aboriginal mother, I am very concerned about having a high concentration of shift workers in the area, with no security standards in place. These camps, often referred to as “man camps” have in other areas of the province attracted activities such as drug trafficking, as well as being vectors of sexual assaults against women and children in surrounding areas.

    Despite the claims of T & T, local residents were not adequately informed of the proposal. T & T wishes to insinuate that there was little concern, and passive acceptance of the proposal because only 7 people attended the town-hall meeting. It is much more likely that residents were not informed properly. I can tell you that since I learned of this proposal, I have had a flood of people voicing their opposition, and not a single person speaking out in favour. Residents in Parkland county were not informed at all, despite the fact that many properties in this neighbouring county would be impacted.

    I notice that in the proposal, T & T claim that the Bamber lands are already so cleared, that there is little to no wildlife that will be impacted. This is patently false. My parents routinely see deer, foxes, coyotes, rabbits and other wildlife on those lands.

    Many thanks for considering these points.

    Chelsea Vowel

  2. Winterseeker says:

    This is deeply concerning, thanks for sharing your knowledge and how we can help! Mining is growing out of control in Canada, especially in the west and central provinces – this issue must be addressed. You are very informed and eloquent in explaining this issue, I encourage you to contact media to cover this, as they will certainly express interest – some that come to mind are: rabble.ca, CBC/CBC Aboriginal, The Tyee, Huffpost Green, local newspapers/online…etc.

    Also, is there an established group addressing this or that covers this area already? If not, something to consider: http://www.gravelwatch.org/coalitions.htm

    A petition online could also help build awareness, good sites are change.org, leadnow and sumofus – signatures and a template email, with bits of what you have said so well, could then be sent directly to the MPP’s and MP’s who need to see it!

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