FVRD residents rattled by closed-door gravel meeting

Fraser Valley residents fear a private meeting will approve a mining plan before a court decision clarifying municipal authority.

Fraser Valley Regional District directors are meeting behind closed doors with B.C. mining and gravel industry officials next week to discuss the future of the Aggregate Pilot Project.

But some rural area residents fear FVRD directors at the April 10 meeting will approve the APP just when a court case in Peachland may rule whether municipal and regional government bylaws can trump the B.C. Mines Act and limit gravel mining operations.

“Ironically, the industry-friendly (APP) could leave the FVRD as the least powerful region in the province, in controlling Conflict Gravel disputes,” Glen Thompson, spokesman for the Friends of the Chilliwack River Valley, said.

“If the APP passes, the FVRD will abolish bylaws that limit and regulate gravel extraction,” he said.

However, Peachland Mayor Keith Fielding said even if the courts rule in the municipality’s favour, an agreement with the gravel industry similar to the Fraser Valley pilot program would be a “valuable” tool, “provided it’s respected and the results are enforceable.”

“Without (such a program) it’s even worse,” he said.

Fielding said a pilot program in the Central Okanagan Regional District has “essentially stalled” due to a lack of B.C. government funding for mapping gravel resources in the region.

FVRD chair Sharon Gaetz said there are no plans for a final vote on the APP at the April 10 meeting, although the three-colour mapping designations it proposes will be discussed by electoral area directors and gravel industry officials.

“I think what Glen has assumed is we’re going to charge on ahead (of the court ruling) and put the APP in place and lock ourselves in,” she said. “It’s not in our best interests to do that, quite frankly.”

David Lamson, Electoral Area E Director in the Chilliwack River Valley, confirmed the meeting will be closed to the public, but “as far as there being a final vote on the APP, that’s not my understanding because the APP is a report with a number of recommendations … it doesn’t have to be all agreed to at once.”

However, he suggested that if the industry does agree to a map during the meeting that protects the community’s interests, it would obviously not be refused.

Lamson said the Chilliwack River Valley Ratepayers Association and the Cultus Lake Park Board have been invited to send delegates to a meeting this week to get their input prior to the April 10 meeting, but no meeting open to the general public has been organized to date.

Lamson said Area E residents can send comments about the APP to the FVRD website or contact members of two advisory commissions reviewing the area’s official settlement plan.

Public consultation has been a flash point among rural area residents who were not part of the five years of negotiations that resulted in the March, 2009 APP agreement. The argument against public involvement was that the elected FVRD electoral area directors represented their interests.

However, that’s not the way residents living next door to gravel mining operations like those in Lake Errock see it, and the APP has been simmering in limbo ever since.

But their fight is not with the APP, Abbotsford-Mission MLA Randy Hawes, B.C.’s former secretary of state for mining, suggested Wednesday.

“This (APP) is not about the existing gravel pits,” he said, but the location of future gravel pits so home builders can avoid the very “conflict gravel” situations vexing residents.

He said the purpose of the April 10 meeting is to “refine” maps where gravel may or may not be mined “and then taking them to the public.”

“This is not a decision-making thing,” he said.

Public meetings to date have deteriorated into “screaming sessions” about existing gravel pits, which have nothing to do with the APP, he said.

“To me, this (APP) is about sharing the decision-making process that hasn’t happened before,” he said, which will give local governments “much more say” about gravel mining operations.

“I think it will be a crying shame if it’s derailed by some short-sighted people,” he said.

rfreeman@theprogress.com

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