Despite Reeve Bob Schmidt and ASL Paving Ltd's anticipating the permit would be issued after Monday's Council meeting, RM Council again delayed its issuance for the proposed gravel pit. The company needs the permit to start excavating work stockpiling sand for the highly anticipated Provincial pavement project, which will see 19 km's of Highway 322 paved to Rowan's Ravine Provincial Park.
Council met on Monday for what was supposed to be the crossing of t's and dotting of i's after the stakeholder's met Thursday, agreeing to minor revisions to the permit conditions. Instead, Council again delayed the permit when they unexpectedly changed the permit's conditions.
On March 2, General Manager of ASL Paving, Jorden Hanus, said in an interview that part of the holdup was that they did not have a set starting point from the watercourse, determining the required excavation setbacks.
On March 3, after Hanus made the comments, the RM Administrator, Reeve Bob Schmidt and Division 4 Councillor Garry Dixon met with ASL and the RM's Community Planner, Urban Systems. At the meeting, the RM made some minor revisions to the original conditions.
Reeve Schmidt contacted LMT on Saturday, March 6, about the article. Schmidt said he anticipated the permit to be issued after Monday's meeting as there were a couple of conditions that ASL had met. However, at Monday's meeting, the Reeve, now sounding irritated with Hanus' March 2 comments that the watercourse starting point had not been defined decided he would instead make a motion requiring ASL to pay for a full survey of the area. Numerous times during Council's discussion Schmidt referenced Hanus' comments, despite their March 3rd agreement occurring after Hanus made the remarks. Hanus was not at the Zoom meeting of Council, and it appeared that Schmidt hadn't contacted Hanus to clarify his understanding.
At Monday's meeting, Camille Box, who works for the RM and has been assisting in the project, said that she told ASL the Water Security Agency (WSA) advised the starting point for the setbacks could be from the shrub line high mark from the watercourse. She added that WSA also advised the aquifer where the groundwater runs significantly below the extraction site.
"I'm still putting my motion on the table that we provide this information to [ASL]. And to provide this information to [ASL] we are going to get a survey of that property and the water course surveyed and that's what's going to happen and that's where you are going to find that information from." Again referring to the article, "it's coming up here that this is the source of some long standing delay on this whole thing. And we are doing it," Schmidt said.
Schmidt added to the conditions, "We are going to tell them to survey the water course, the layout of the suggested area that they want to put their excavation site in and I'm going to ask that we also get the GPS points mapped and the elevations mapped in that area. And we are going to provide that to ASL, and that's what they are looking for."
Councillor Dixon asked why they were not using the diagram with the location provided by ASL. Schmidt, sounding irritated with the question, responded, "Garry, they are saying they need a location, it's been evident. I am putting this motion on the table."
CAO Brandi Morissette - "I'm confused because now we are completely changing what was originally decided when we had ASL and Urban Systems on the phone." Schmidt replied, "Brandi, I am doing that because of this thing that was in the newspaper that they need a starting point from us and that's been the big delay."
Councillor Don Whitrow questioned the article's factual accuracy, saying to Schmidt, "You are specifically pointing out that Jorden made these statements in the paper. In the past there's been lots of stuff in that paper that's never been true."
Agreeing with the inclusion of the legal survey in the permit's conditions, Councillor Marilyn Labatte said that should the groundwater become contaminated Council should ensure they have done their due diligence for the ratepayers. Labatte raised the prospect of an environmental assessment and referred to a groundwater study from Finland.
Councillor Dixon referencing the Environmental Protection Act, asked if the Contractor would complete an environmental assessment, "If we decided we want the survey done, do we want the study done." Councillor Whitrow immediately said he was against having the study done since it would continue to drag the process out.
Dixon started questioning if the company has gotten an environmental impact study completed from the location where they are hauling aggregate from north of Southey. ASL said the Ministry of Highways has been out to the site and has been satisfied with the crushing company's information they have provided them. The Reeve then directed ASL's representative to a Contractor's Manual, Environmental Approvals Guide – Ministry of Highways, and suggested he reach out to the Ministry of Highways and that the Contractor could hopefully get it done quickly.
Schmidt continued to question ASL, asking if the Ministry of Highways knew ASL would be extracting in an environmentally sensitive area. He said, "Did you let them know that?" ASL responded they had completed all of the heritage background checks and that no concerns had arisen. Schmidt further questioned ASL saying "about the environmentally sensitive area, being that it is that."
Council requested ASL submit an environmental assessment report to the Council but didn't include it in the permit's conditions.
Councillor Labatte said she would send ASL the Finnish report on gravel extraction and impact on groundwater for their future reading. Responding, the ASL representative said he had dug some large holes and that WSA requires that there is only a metre of coverage on any aquifer. The aquifer where they are working is approximately greater than 80 feet. He said the fact that it was so deep factored into their consideration when approving the site for excavation. He added they do not anticipate any water coming up from the floor of the excavation.
Labatte asked if ASL had got their equipment moved in because of the road bans. He said they had, and they had anticipated that they would possibly be digging.
While Reeve Schmidt has continued to deny the RM is to blame for delays to the permit process, later in the meeting, when CAO Morissette was responding to Council on another matter, she said, "We are only an office of three people right now .This ASL application has taken up way more time than it should have."
The continued delay is costing ASL as the RM flip flops on its conditions and affecting landowner and former RM Councillor Murray Wild. He said he is, "Disappointed but not at all surprised. That seems to be just how they operate. At this time we are just looking at our options. Mr. Schmidt said we were the ones that put these bylaws in place. We had two highway projects in my tenure go ahead and we probably didn't have a week of delay on the permits of the two combined. There were no environmental travesties, the material all came from this RM. These are the games these people play."
Reeve Bob Schmidt and ASL were contacted but did not respond in time for publication.
Ministry of Highways spokesperson, Patrick Boyle, "Ministry of Highways representatives have been in regular contact with the RM of McKillop’s staff and consultant about this project. The Ministry will continue to work with the RM and ASL to address the RM’s concerns. However, with the additional requirements for the sub-base aggregate source, it is possible that the contractor will not be able to start the project when they had planned."
Jennifer Argue, Local Journalism Initiative Reporter, Last Mountain Times