Staff at the District of Lake Country have begun a comprehensive review of its soil removal portfolio after it was found that more than one of the many gravel mining operations in Lake Country were not operating with the proper municipal permits.
The issue came to light at last week’s Lake Country council meeting, when council unanimously approved a temporary use permit for Interior Gravel Products to allow for rock crushing and screening on the site of its gravel pit, west of Highway 97.
Council heard that the company had been granted a mining permit in 2010 from the provincial government and had started working the pit in 2013, including screening and crushing of rock. However despite the provincial government approval, the operators never received the proper permit from Lake Country to process the gravel on site, as required under Lake Country bylaws.
“We’re currently working very hard on our soil removal portfolio,” Lake Country planner Paul Dupuis told council. “In the process of reviewing the file, we found there wasn’t a temporary use permit so we’re looking to rectify that.”
When it comes to gravel pits, operators receive mine licenses to extract gravel from the Ministry of Energy and Mines. Processing the gravel on site means the operator must get the proper permits from the municipality in which it operates. However Dupuis said Interior Gravel Products as well as some other pits in the area do not have the proper permits in place.
“I cannot speak to the past or what may have occurred that has led to the situation,” Dupuis told the Lake Country Calendar in a follow up interview. ” I can only focus on ways forward…Council was informed that staff is working on a proactive solution to the portfolio and developing in-house systems to address expiration of permits so that we can follow up with applicants prior to permit expirations.”
One by one Lake Country councillors spoke about gravel pits in Lake Country (see comments below) voicing concern about noise, lack of reclamation, scarring of the land and other issues. However in the end, not one of them voted against allowing Interior Gravel to continue its crushing and screening operation.
The company—with three of its 10 employees living in Oyama—has a mine operation permit that has been extended to 2022. It is one of at least 10 gravel pits that operate in Lake Country and Dupuis said that it’s likely more operators will have to appear at council, to bring their permits up to standard.
However it doesn’t appear that Lake Country council can stop the operations, even if it wanted to. Despite the objections of every councillor at the table, council rubber-stamped the continuation of the operation status quo. Dupuis said council could have voted against the recommendation which would have stopped the operation from crushing and screening, however he said that likely would have resulted in conflict with the operator and the Ministry of Mines.
“Councils have done it, but then it has to be a battle with the Ministry,” he said.
Dupuis added that the district will be contacting a few other operations that have been found to be operating without the proper permits and said one positive out of the situation is that all of the operators in Lake Country are paying their tipping fees.
Lake Country’s soil regulation bylaw calls for the district to receive 50 cents per metre cubed of material that is removed. From 2010 to 2015, Interior Gravel paid the district over $42,000 in fees with an estimated $53,000 still to come by the time the mine operation is complete. Those fees are used to maintain roads in the district, which can take a beating with heavy duty vehicles like gravel trucks.
In the end the district will set up an internal system to alert staff of when permits are expired so it can reach out to companies and start the process or renewing permits.
Lake Country councillors spoke up about gravel pits but in the end, all voted to allow the temporary use permit to go ahead for the operator in question. Here is some of what they said:
“Since coming on council I really struggle with gravel pits. I understand the need for the product and that it has to be moved and that we are getting some value. I also struggle with the stripping of trees. Are we asking for enough money to reclaim because I have yet to see a gravel pit in the area that has been reclaimed?”
“This is an existing gravel operation. It has scarred the land, absolutely it has. Our choice is to close them down or not. Business is business and we have to continue and we have an opportunity to get it into agriculture production,” once it is done.
“It’s crushing gravel without a permit and it hasn’t been in compliance for six years. It is loud. I live there and it’s not quiet.”
“There are a lot of the gravel pits in the area and it would be really nice to see one reclaimed. It would be nice to use up a few and move forward but we’ll have to keep working on that.”
“We haven’t done a very good job with soil extraction permits….I can appreciate the economic and job benefits and the lack of complaints says something about the operation. What are we becoming and what are we doing? We are going to start to have more conflict. We did buy the rail trail and we do have Pelmewash going forward.”
“Urban mining was an issue we have had to deal with since we incorporated. We couldn’t do much before we incorporated. The mining act supercedes the municipal act. It wasn’t until we got a soil removal deposit bylaw that we could put conditions on (the operations). It has improved considerably and we do recoup some costs.”