FORT ASSINIBOINE – The volume of traffic passing through the hamlet, the cost of maintaining local roads and possible environmental issues arising from a flood of the area were among the concerns voiced by both area residents and Woodlands County councillors at a public hearing on Jan. 16 regarding a proposed sand and gravel pit in the Pride Valley area just east of Fort Assiniboine.
Woodlands County reeve John Burrows told the small crowd of residents who turned out to the public hearing that the purpose of the event was to gather input on the natural resource extraction and development permit, and no decision would be made by council until the Feb. 1 or Feb. 16 meeting, both of which will be livestreamed via Youtube.
“It’s an information-gathering process and that’s why we’re holding it here in Fort Assiniboine,” Burrows said, referencing the fact that the public hearing was held at the county office in the hamlet as opposed to the regional office in Whitecourt.
At the start of the hearing, Division 7 (Fort Assiniboine/Timeu) Coun. Devin Williams excused himself from the hearing due to a pecuniary interest.
Manager of community and planning services Joan Slootweg then recounted the details of the permit, which is for a Class 1 gravel pit on two parcels of land at NE 2-62-5-W5M and Plan 092-9270. There was previously a Class 1 pit at this location operated by a different company.
The applicant, Clear Rock Aggregates Ltd., is proposing a phased extraction of gravel over a period of 35 years. The pit will be more than five hectares in size, with a maximum disturbed area at any one time of 10 hectares.
She said the proposed normal hours of operation would be 7 a.m. to 7 p.m. from Monday to Friday and 7 a.m. to 5 p.m. on Saturdays, with no extraction taking place on Sundays or statutory holidays.
Slootweg said the applicant anticipates 50 truckloads per day during normal operations, though if there’s a large contract to be filled, “that number could … be greater.”
The proposed haul route goes along Township Road 620A from the valley to the hamlet, which is on Highway 661. It then goes through Fort Assiniboine to Highway 33 and then on to its ultimate destination, which will likely be in Edmonton.
Slootweg said the operator has indicated there could be a temporary camp and fuel storage on site, though the operator intends to obtain all necessary approvals from Alberta Environment.
It will also monitor water conditions in accordance with the Pride Valley Area Structure Plan (PVASP) and 45-metre setbacks will be placed from any wetlands and water courses.
Division 6 (Goose Lake/Freeman River) Coun. Peter Kuelken said he had reviewed the Area Structure Plan and the accompanying flood hazard map indicates the entire area is a flood hazard, adding that he had also seen aerial photos of the flooding from several years ago.
Acknowledging that environmental concerns are part of the province’s wheelhouse, Kuelken asked how they could make sure that the people affected by such issues could be heard.
Slootweg said it was her understanding that the province does regular inspections of areas along the river that are of concern, but ultimately a ratepayer would be able to report such issues through a 1-800 hotline maintained by Alberta Environment and Parks.
Kuelken then asked what type of royalties the county would receive from the project and whether that would cover the cost of maintenance on local roads.
Slootweg said the county collects a royalty of 40 cents per tonne of material extracted from the pit, as per the Municipal Government Act. That money goes into general revenue, but council could choose to dedicate those funds back to the community.
Division 4 (Whitecourt East) Coun. Jeremy Wilhelm asked why the applicant had a preference for a hauling route through Fort Assiniboine, noting that there was a nearby route along Horse Creek Road that would bypass the hamlet entirely.
Slootweg noted that other routes would add significantly to the distance travelled by trucks hauling gravel.
Division 3 (Whitecourt Central) Coun. Alan Deane commented that he didn’t believe asking the operator to drive even as much as 20 additional kilometres to haul gravel would be out of line.
However, Slootweg warned against changing the rules for one operator when there are two others in the Pride Valley area travelling through the hamlet.
Division 5 (Blue Ridge) Coun. Bruce Prestidge also noted the alternate routes were along gravel roads, which would take far more of a beating from heavy truckloads than paved roads.
As well, he noted that residents living along those roads likely don’t want dozens of trucks passing near their property either.
However, Prestidge did express one concern over possible conflicts between the operations of the gravel pit and special events occurring within Fort Assiniboine, such as the annual Hamlet Hoedown and Rodeo.
Chiming in again, Kuelken asked about noise abatement, noting that in addition to the other two operators in the area, there are a number of other operators across the nearby Athabasca River.
Slootweg said a noise monitoring program could be implemented by the applicant, though she noted it would be based on the current baseline and not incorporate whatever noise is caused by this new gravel pit.
Finally, Kuelken asked what would occur in the event a flood took out a chunk of the infrastructure in that area, and if the county would be required to repair any roads within a certain timeline.
Frank replied that would be up to council to decide whether or not to repair the roads, adding that they could apply for funding under the Disaster Recovery Program.
A representative of the applicant, who did not identify himself, indicated during the hearing that an oil and gas company called N7 Energy have expressed opposition to this development due to concerns about the integrity of a pipeline running through this area.
In order to work with N7, the representative said they had adjusted their plans so that extraction will be carried out in a way that leaves the land where this pipeline runs until late in the project’s 35-year lifespan.
A resident who identified himself as Allan Robinson indicated he had lived in the area for nearly 40 years, and there had been a number of operators in the valley over that time, including some that were good and others that were not.
Robinson particularly had concerns about two corners on the proposed hauling route, including one corner at the bottom of the hill where a number of accidents had occurred. He said the previous owner of the gravel pit that preceded this application had a truck wrecked at that corner.
The other worrisome spot was at the boat launch, where there had been a number of near-misses between vehicles over the years.
“I’m not one way or the other on the development. I’m worried about the road and our people,” he said.
Bryan Radke, another resident who had also submitted a written objection to the project, said he thought there huge concerns with the amount of trucks going through the hamlet, the wear and tear on roads and the lost quality of life.
In particular, he felt the hours of operation needed to be seriously looked at, noting that extraction going all the way up to 7 p.m. could adversely affect people trying to enjoy their property.
Radke also expressed environmental concerns, noting that that when the river is high, huge volumes of flood water pass through the area where the pit is located.
“This brings risks of equipment and fuel storage tanks being submerged in flood water,” Radke stated in his letter.
He asked what people want in the Pride Valley – something beautiful that is used for recreation by local residents and visitors, or an area completely developed as gravel pits.
"It would be a great idea to preserve Pride Valley in its present state for low impact recreation or other such uses that are environmentally friendly … so many people could use and enjoy the area,” he stated.
A number of other unidentified residents also voiced similar worries over traffic, noise and the environmental impact during the hearing, which ran for nearly an hour and a half.
At the conclusion of the hearing, Burrows said council hears all the feedback and shares some of their worries, noting that while the county does want to encourage economic development, they also want to have a good “future vision” for the municipality.