Traffic and safety among concerns about proposed gravel operation
Open house on Stony Valley Project draws about 30 people to Mystery Lake hall
Some raised concerns about traffic, noise, pollution and safety, some worried about environmental impact, particularly on the Athabasca River. Others came to listen and learn, others voiced support.
The Stony Valley Project, a proposal to develop a 640-acre gravel deposit in Barrhead County, attracted a mixed bag of responses at an open house meeting last Tuesday afternoon.
Of course, those living nearest a potential aggregate haulage route tended to have more to say.
Doug Shaver, for instance, says he will sell his property if one of the routes is approved. As someone approaching retirement, he is worried about his quality of life being harmed.
“I live in a beautiful house and have been there 15 years, but I will sell if the route comes too near the property,” he told The Barrhead Leader.
“I am concerned about traffic going through rural areas. I am concerned about pollution and safety. I believe any heavy trucks should be limited to 60kph.”
Shaver, who is in the oil industry, says he understands the business appeal of the project. But he is sceptical whether safety can be completely compatible with a money-driven venture.
One woman from the Fort Assiniboine area voiced concern about digging gravel pits in an alluvial aquifer and its impact on the health of the Athabasca River. She spoke of the danger of degrading a public water resource for short-term profit.
Others, however, gave Stony Valley Contracting Ltd., the company behind the venture, credit for its evaluation and modification of potential haul routes, one of which runs from the proposed development site in TWP61-R7-W5M through the Connor Creek Grazing Reserve to provincial Highway 18.
The company says the route protects a critical sharp tailed grouse habitat. Another route proposal linking the development site to Highway 18 and Highway 43 is also on the table.
“I can’t see anything wrong with the proposal,” said Arthur Chalifoux. “They shoved one possible route over a mile or so, so it is not cutting part of the pasture. It makes a lot of sense.”
Chalifoux, his sons and brother hobby farm on three quarters of land near one of the proposed routes. They also have cabins there.
About 30 people filled Mystery Lake Community Hall on Tuesday afternoon for an open house meeting on the Stony Valley Project. Another open house was held in the evening, and a third one was scheduled at Romeo Lake on Wednesday. In October, a fourth open house is planned, probably at the same venue.
Among those present on Tuesday afternoon were Barrhead County councillor Bill Lane and County development officer Rick Neumann.
There to meet people was Dan Fouts, general manager of Fort McMurray-based Stony Valley Contracting Ltd.
His wife Janet, also with Stony Valley Contracting, and a team of consultants accompanied him. They included: Grant Potolicki, Green Plan lead environmental consultant; Chantelle Kilborn, Green Plan environmental consultant and the coordinator of the Water Act approval; Len Knapik, from Pedocan, who is handling land reclamation; Gary Wagner, from Klohn Krippen Berger, who is dealing with the Water Act and studies associated with the act; and David Coombs, from Talking Stick, who is responsible for public consultation.
Missing was Fouts’ business partner, Wayne Woodhouse, operations manager and joint owner of Stony ValIey. Company business kept him away.
It was a low-key meeting, perhaps reflecting the one-on-one meetings the company has held with residents and landowners over the last two years.
Fouts, who describes himself as a plain-speaking Alberta boy, is a familiar face to most of those who attended. He is even on first-name terms with some.
There is another factor to consider as Fouts repeatedly stressed, the project is still not off the starting block, even though a lot of research has been carried out.
Stony Valley has two regulatory hurdles to cross before it can start operations at the Crown Lands site, which is about 30 miles from downtown Barrhead.
First it requires development approval from the provincial government’s Alberta Sustainable Resource Development. Applications must include a conservation reclamation plan describing how the gravel will be developed, what measures will be put in place to protect the environment and suggested end land use after reclamation. This could include creating recreation facilities or restoring the land to a wildlife habitat.
Secondly, the company must get a development permit from Barrhead County. This requires Stony Valley to demonstrate it has obtained provincial approvals and met with residents and landowners to identify, understand and address as well as possible potential issues or concerns.
“We have applied for neither,” said Fouts.
People were encouraged to fill out a comment card attached to a brochure on the project which was handed to arrivals. Many seemed to prefer this method of communication than speaking publicly.
For the first two hours of the session, people looked at a series of displays, which included details on the company; the importance of aggregate materials; the proposed development; potential haul routes; environmental impact; potential end land-use; safety; and working with the community.
Bill Lane said safety was his number one concern.
“We have school buses on the road and ratepayers on the road, so it is very important that we look at the implications of this project,” he said. “The infrastructure is of great concern – noise, disturbance and dust.”
It was also important, however, to look 50 years ahead, he added, and recognize the ongoing road maintenance challenges in the area.
Barrhead was sitting on a gravel “goldmine,” which presented great opportunities that other communities did not have.
“This is the best gravel around,” he said.
In a slide presentation, Fouts said the Stony Valley Project could deliver 2,700-3,000 tonnes of gravel to markets in Barrhead County, Lac Ste. Anne and Edmonton, which was the primary target.
The plan was for a consistent stream of 25 trucks to leave the site for Edmonton, making three trips a day. The trucks will deposit gravel in a series of satellite yards in the Edmonton area.
“This is a long-term project,” he said. “We are talking about 30-plus years.”
Fouts said road building and paving would eat up a major part of the initial investment of $7 to $9 million. Such a huge financial outlay was an incentive for the company to address issues properly and not jeopardize regulatory permits.
Steps would be taken to minimize potential adverse affects, he said. This included stockpiling gravel around the pit to deflect and reduce noise.
“We will also assess the use of strobe lights on loaders used in the pit as a safety measure for backing up instead of the standard back-up alarms,” said Fouts.
“Our objective is to find the path of least impact,” he added.
Fouts said between 45 and 50 jobs could be created; half would be employed at the site, the other half driving trucks.
He added that if everything went according to the company’s plan, the project could begin in the summer of 2013.
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