Six candidates

Six candidates

UPDATED: Abbotsford candidates debate gravel issues

Sumas Mountain Rural Property Owners Associations hosts candidates meeting to discuss gravel mining options.

A moratorium on new gravel mines, stiffer fines for offenders and enforcing gravel regulations were the main topics discussed Tuesday night at Straiton Hall.

An all-candidates meeting, focused solely on the issue of gravel mining on Sumas Mountain, was held for candidates in both the Abbotsford South and Abbotsford-Mission ridings.

Only six candidates – Independent John van Dongen and Liberal Darryl Plecas from Abbotsford South and Liberal Simon Gibson, Preet Rai of the NDP, Aird Flavelle from the Green Party and Conservative Don Stahl from Abbotsford-Mission – attended the discussion which featured questions from the public.

Concerns ranging from truck traffic, noise, dust, safety and protection of  property rights were voiced.

Several people asked if the candidates could ensure that no new gravel mines be created in the area.

“I will not support any further mines,” said Gibson, echoing the sentiments of almost all the candidates.

However, Gibson did clarify that he was speaking of new mines, not the possible expansion of existing mines.

He said if an existing mine applies to go deeper and it meets all regulations, that “has to be respected.”

Van Dongen told the crowd he could not “arbitrarily commit” to a complete moratorium without first hearing both the government’s and industry’s side of the issue.

“There may be legal issues with that, there may be rights in place based on existing permits that have to be respected.”

He did commit to review all the issues with the residents and other stakeholders to discuss what can and should be done about them.

Plecas took a different stand saying he would “fully support” a moratorium on new mines.

‘For me it’s such a no brainer. We do not need new mines, we do not need outward growth of existing mines.”

Stahl also supports a moratorium, but said he would tie expansion for existing mines to those mines who are in compliance with regulations.

Flavelle would support the idea of no new mines or expansion of existing ones until a “better permitting system” is created.

Rai said any enhancements of mines should be done with a complete, enhanced environmental review.

“It has to be a community, environmental, social and economic decision, It can’t be just one at the cost of the other.”

Other questions were focused, not on new mines but dealing with the issues caused by current mining operations. They include unsafe road conditions do to damage caused by the large gravel trucks and other quality of life issues like noise, dust and adhering to hours of operation.

“We do not have enough enforcement of what’s going on with big trucks, that needs to be fixed. That needs to be fixed in terms of safety of those vehicles and the weight they’re carrying,” said Plecas.

He said high fines levied against truckers, who are not abiding by the rules, could be used to repair roads.

Van Dongen did not agree saying severely high fines are not a solution.

“If you ever get a huge penalty, you justify the company involved hiring lawyers and fighting you to the end of the earth. There is an appropriate balance in the way to design these things.”

Rai said enforcement has to be done.

“There is seepage into the creeks, there is dust in properties and trucks going at different hours.”

Gibson said trucks also need to be better identified.

“Right now when a truck goes by, you don’t know who’s driving it and who’s operating it.”

Flavelle said the system for enforcing regulations needs a major rebuild.

“It’s broken, it’s broken good. There’s no fixing it. All you can do is try to mitigate it.”

The mine inspectors should work for the Solicitor General rather than the mines department said Stahl, in order to avoid any conflict of interest.

The event was hosted by the Sumas Mountain Rural Property Owners Association and attracted about 75 people.