Opponent takes up fight against new Revelstoke gravel pit proposal

Stuart Andrews has taken up the fight against a proposed new gravel pit off Westside Road in Revelstoke.

Stuart Andrews speaks to council in opposition to the proposed gravel pit off Westside Road.

Stuart Andrews speaks to council in opposition to the proposed gravel pit off Westside Road.

The proposed new gravel pit off Westside Road is a money grab that will cause public health problems, an opponent told council last week.

Stuart Andrews addressed council last week with his concerns about the proposed new pit, which would be located off Westside Road, across the river from the golf course.

“The matter is very contentious and controversial because of the other gravel pits in the surrounding area,” he said.

The gravel pit application is being made by Revelstoke Sand & Gravel, a company who’s lone director is John McKinnon. The company has applied for a land use permit with the Ministry of Forests, Lands & Natural Resource Operations; and a development permit with the City of Revelstoke.

Andrews has emerged as the leading voice against gravel pits in the Revelstoke area. He lead an unsuccessful opposition to the expansion of the nearby Interroute gravel pit in 2010, but has continued to fight the province over the past five years to ensure the Ministry of Mines enforces dust control and other conditions placed on the pit through its terms of use.

The newest application has him picking up the battle again, with his main argument being the pits produce silica dust and are hazardous to human health,

“Another unregulated gravel pit with no dust controls and producing silica dust will be detrimental to public health,” he said.

Whether that actually is the case is the subject of debate, with few studies having been conducted on the issue and limited data available. Ralph Adams, an air quality meteorologist with the Ministry of Environment told me, “I have never been told by a health official that silicosis was an issue for outside exposure, but dust is a big concern mostly for aesthetic reasons.”

PHOTO: One of many photos of dust blowing off a gravel pit off Westside Road shown by Stuart Andrews to Revelstoke council. Photo by Stuart Andrews.

Crystalline silica, the fine dust produced by crushing quartz rock, is considered a class one carcinogen and exposure can be very harmful for workers involved in any profession that involves blasting or crushing rock, such as working in a quarry. It can cause silicosis, a debilitating lung disease that can result in death.

For the public at large, the health risk is not known. A lengthy report by the the organization Gravel Watch says, “At this time, the ‘adverse effects’ and ‘negative impacts’ caused by exposure to pit and quarry operation contaminants discharged to the air appears not to have been assessed, evaluated and studied. It would be helpful to know if citizens living or working adjacent to pits and quarries or in surrounding areas have a higher instance of heart disease, asthma and other respiratory illnesses.”

A report by the U.S. National Institute of Health says people living near gravel pits can be exposed to crystallin silica, but it does not say what the health risk is to non-workers. “This lack of data means it is not currently possible to determine conclusively whether or to what extent the quantity, duration or types of silica emissions in the state may be a public health concern.”

Another report by the Wisconsin Department of Natural Resources says there is no wide-spread concern about exposure for people living away from gravel pits. For people living near sources of crystalline silica, the report says, “Data from other air pollution control agencies shows that silica ambient air concentrations could be above a level of concern. However, the data also suggests that other non-industrial sources contribute to the ambient levels.”

The DNR report says little conclusive information exists regarding sources, controls, or levels of silica present in the air.

In Revelstoke, where there is no air quality monitoring station, the level of crystalline silica in the air outside gravel pits is unknown. Andrews says the dust poses a risk to all residents of Columbia Park. “We are getting it every day, every hour during the summer months,” he said.

His biggest issue was that there is no enforcement of dust controls. He produced numerous photos of dust blowing off the Interroute gravel pit, saying that the Ministry of Mines only requires self-compliance. “It’s like putting the fox in charge of the chicken coop,” he said. “They’ll get away with whatever they get away with because it makes money.”

Andrews also told council he is appealing his property assessment due to the dust and noise issues, and that if he is successful, it could lead to reductions to all property values in Columbia Park.

He asked council to hold a public meeting, and to have the city’s environmental advisory committee produce a report prior to approving the development permit. “I ask everyone on council to consider this application as if they have to live close to the gravel pit and have constant noise and dust blowing over their homes and family,” he said.

He said gravel pits should be located further north, closer to the dam, and not directly across from Columbia Park.

Ultimately, the city is limited in what it can do. The Ministry of Forests, Lands & Natural Resource Operations has the ultimate say in whether or not to issue the permit for use of Crown land. The best the city can do is ask for conditions to be placed on the permit, and hope Revelstoke Sand & Gravel complies and puts proper measures in place.

The city is required by law to allow gravel extraction within city limits, though exactly where is up to the city, said Dean Strachan, the manager of development. The area for the proposed quarry is zoned RR60, which allows for gravel extraction.

“There is the ability to look at land-use bylaws and where gravel extraction takes place,” he said. “There are provisions within the Official Community Plan to identity areas for gravel extraction. If that is carried forward into the zoning bylaw it would geographically restrict gravel extraction to a specific area in the community.

“We need to have some area of gravel extraction in the community. Where that’s located is up for discussion.”

John McKinnon of Revelstoke Sand & Gravel told the Review the pit was needed to supplement their Jordan River pit, which he said is unaccessible in the winter and early spring.

“We’re running out of gravel so we can’t supply our customers with new materials in the spring time,” he said.

He said they looked at other spots, “but everywhere there’s a stream so you can’t go near it.”

As far as dust control goes, McKinnon said they would follow Interroute’s standards, and conduct dust control on the road – an answer that likely won’t appease critics. He said the quarry would be kept small and would only be used when they couldn’t access their Jordan River pit.

Revelstoke council is awaiting an environmental impact report on the gravel pit before making any decision.

To read Andrews’ submission to council on the gravel pit, see this story on the Review website.

Stuart Andrews’ presentation by AlexCooperRTR