O.K. Industries is looking to build a quarry next to Capital Regional District land, of which the aquifer sits underneath. This map was taken from the 2015 report for the rezoning application. (Photo courtesy District of Highlands)

O.K. Industries asks to engage with Highlands community over contentious quarry project

Highlands District Community Association seeks to appeal quarry permit

A company that plans to operate a quarry in the District of Highlands says it wants to “meaningfully” engage with residents after a local community association brought a petition against the quarry to court.

On June 8, the Highlands District Community Association (HDCA) submitted a petition to the Supreme Court of B.C. against the province’s decision to grant a permit for a rock quarry to O.K. Industries Ltd. The petition is between the HDCA and the province’s Attorney General; the minister of mines, energy and petroleum resources; Donald Harrison, delegate of the chief inspector of mines and O.K. Industries Ltd.

“I’m not surprised they have filed this petition,” said Mel Sangha, corporate adviser and former general manager of O.K. Industries. “They’ve been very vocal throughout this all but it’s the same thing they’ve been arguing.”

The quarry would be near the Millstream Road entrance to the District of Highlands, called the “gateway lands.” It was proposed in 2016 and at the time, more than 1,000 residents signed a petition against the proposal. The 65-acre property was purchased by O.K. Industries from the province in 2015 and was granted a Mines Act permit in March of this year. The District of Highlands denied the company’s rezoning application to use the land for industrial purposes in 2016.

READ ALSO: Highlands Community Association petitions province’s approval of rock quarry

Concerns from the HDCA include impacts on the subsurface aquifer and drinking water, noise and dust from the project, road safety hazards from increased traffic, possible negative impacts to quality of life and house prices and impacts on biodiversity.

“Based on what I’ve read it looks like the issues that have been raised by the HDCA are the same ones submitted to the Ministry of Mines, Energy and Petroleum Resources when we applied for the permit,” Sangha said. “Those issues were communicated to us by the ministry, reviewed and responded to.”

Sangha said the company hired third party consultants to evaluate the community association’s concerns and provide recommendations on how to operate the quarry. The reports were submitted to the ministry which evaluated the company’s responses with their own staff and issued the permit to O.K. Industries Ltd. Sangha believes the permit was issued because the company’s plan met ministry requirements and addressed issues raised by community members.

Rather than building a big hole in the ground, Sangha said the plan is to dig to a final elevation of 95 metres above sea level, or about two metres above the elevation of Millstream Road at the southwest corner of the property. Sangha said they hope to create a level piece of land that can be repurposed to comply with the District’s official community plan once the rock has been mined.

“If we dug a big hole, it would eliminate future use,” Sangha said. “And because we’re not going deep the blasting design that we have says we will not damage the aquifer.”

There is also a stormwater management plan that involves water quality testing to ensure there are no contaminants in the water.

READ ALSO: UPDATED: Province permits proposed gravel quarry in Highlands

According to HDCA board chair Scott Richardson, an unclear process and guidelines for public input into the project also hampered the community association from giving adequate input on the project. Richardson said they were denied due process and that public interest considerations haven’t been addressed properly by the province.

Sangha said the document used by the ministry to permit the quarry was made available to the HDCA and District of Highlands. He said O.K. Industries also conducted an open house with consultants, community members and a representative from the ministry.

“[The HDCA] know what we committed to do and what we’re obligated to do to address concerns they and other stakeholders had,” Sangha said, noting the final decision on the quarry lies with the province. “All I can say is based on what we submitted, they issued a permit so I interpret that as them saying what we proposed was good.”

Before the petition was filed, Sangha said the company already planned on re-engaging with the community to have “meaningful, genuine conversations” about the lands and how they’ll be used in the future. He said they’re still wanting to work with the local community.

“The current petition is a little adversarial,” Sangha said. “Hopefully all sides can move beyond it in a reasonable way.”

shalu.mehta@blackpress.ca


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