During a regular council meeting July 6, Rocky View County (RVC) council voted to scale back the West Cochrane Gravel Pit extension proposal, which initially called for a redesignation of nearly 1,000 acres.
“The initial size of this was the problem,” said Coun. Crystal Kissel during council's deliberation. “We already know this is an environmentally sensitive area. We need to be very cognizant of that. I think it is critical that this council gets this right.”
Burnco Rock Products initially sought a 389-hectare (961-acre) redesignation and extension to the existing operation. The gravel pit is 1.6 kilometres west of Cochrane, and the proposal stated a plan to phase in expansion over the next 30 to 35 years was needed to help with future supply from other RVC-area gravel pits.
Had the full proposal been passed by council, the new stretch would have run six kilometers along the Bow River, which sparked one of the many reasons the application was met with opposition.
Council ultimately went with an extension, but kept it to 65 hectares (160 acres) – a much smaller portion.
As part of the public hearing for the item, proponents on both sides submitted email, audio and video submissions. Many of the submission sent in support were Burnco’s own employees, who spoke to the importance of keeping and growing jobs. Twenty-six of the video and audio submissions presented to council were in opposition.
Much of the opposition spoke to the damage and contamination to the Bow River the gravel pit would have, if given the extension proposed.
Drew Hyndman, general manager of development and community services with the Town of Cochrane, said the Town’s main concerns were around traffic safety, source water protection and dust control. He said in terms of source water protection, the Town is concerned as the Bow River is the source for its 32,000 residents.
“We would like the opportunity to work with RVC and Burnco to address those concerns and understand the potential impact on our water,” he said.
Separately, as a part of the emailed public submissions, Dr. Jon Fennell, a hydrogeologist and geochemist submitted an experiment he conducted on a sample of sand and gravel obtained from Burnco’s current West Cochrane Pit.
In his submission, Fennell said the experiment was to assess what type of changes to water quality might occur after flowing deionized water through these sediments.
“The purpose was to mimic the infiltration of snowmelt and/or rainfall through a thin (1.25m) column of soil,” his submission stated.
According to Fennell, his experiment’s results indicated a significant increase in turbidity, pH (5 to 9.1), and chemical quality of the effluent water.
“The most notable changes were related to metals and trace elements, many exceeding published guidelines to protect humans and aquatic receptors,” he said in his submission. “The proposed development will significantly – and permanently – alter the natural landscape of this picturesque area and forever change the conditions by eliminating the filtering capacity of the soils to contaminants mobilized or introduced during pit operation and following site reclamation.”
But engineer Goetz Aust spoke to Fennell’s experiment during the council meeting. He said Fennell’s sample was “disturbed.”
“In my experience, those particular numbers are extreme,” he said. “Even in fractured bedrock, you would be hard pressed to get those particular numbers.”
After public submissions and a response from the applicant, Kissel put forward a motion to adjust the size of the proposed redesignation to 160 acres. Additionally, her motion called on Burnco to work with the Stoney Nakoda First Nation and the Town of Cochrane to address additional concerns people expressed with the gravel pit.
“Right now, Burnco has a gravel pit that has about 15 years of gravel in it,” Kissel said. “We have the time to do this right. I think it’s also important that council realizes there has been a change in climate lately – I am sure we are all aware of what has been going on in the news with all of the residential schools.”
Kissel said it is very important to provide Stoney Nakoda First Nation the time they need to make sure the proposal fits their needs. She added Burnco could come forward in a year and ask for more if necessary.
“This is a good beginning for this land,” she said. “We do want to protect the land for the next generation.”
Coun. Jerry Gautreau said he didn’t understand Kissel’s motion because of a few “what if” factors.
“What if Stoney Nakoda doesn’t participate? What if the Town of Cochrane is asking for too many different things? Will this ever be resolved?” he said. “Although I agree with what you have put in here to a point, I am not sure if it will actually come into fruition or hold up this application.”
Coun. Greg Boehlke said he couldn’t support the motion.
“We heard the applicant say they have an ongoing file with Stoney Nakoda,” he said. “I understand a lot of the issues that people are talking about.”
He added he believes there is a lot of misconception surrounding the application.
“I really think people believe there would be 1,000 acres of gravel pit here,” he said. “Over time, it is going to gravel pits, but it will be turned back to agricultural land. I don’t think cutting it down to 160 acres is solving anything for anybody.”
Kissel’s motion was eventually divided into two motions and voted on separately. The first motion called for the application to be referred to administration to work with Burnco to prepare a direct control district for an area located between Beaupre Creek and Grand Valley Creek, to be no greater than 160 acres in size.
The motion passed with a vote of 6-3. Couns. Boehlke, Gautreau and Al Schule were on the opposing side.
As for the second motion, which called for Burnco to work with the Town of Cochrane and Stoney Nakoda, the item failed with a vote of 5-4. Couns. Kissel, Samanntha Wright, Kevin Hanson and Reeve Daniel Henn voted in favour.
Once a plan is worked out between the applicant and administration, the item will return for another public hearing.