The vote proceeded despite a letter from Alberta Environment and Parks officials urging Council to delay their decision until a thorough environmental review could be completed.
Opponents have reached out to Council by phone and email but have been unable to contact any Council members to discuss their concerns, excluding a single member who voted against the proposal. During the meeting, the public was unable to participate in person due to COVID-19 restrictions, meanwhile the proponent was allowed to participate in person – raising further concerns about the democratic process of the hearing.
On 28 May 2021 a petition on change.org was started by a Rocky View resident and business owner operating in the region. As of 5 June 2021, the petition has over 550 signatures urging the local and provincial government to protect Big Hill Springs Provincial Park by ensuring no large-scale industrial development occurs within 5km of the Park.
The Big Hill Springs Provincial Park’s ecosystem is at catastrophic risk if gravel pit development occurs in the area. According to Mountain Ash’s site development plan, Phase 1 of the development borders a habitat preservation area and the Ash pit is located only 1.25 km from Big Hill Springs Provincial Park. The Park is considered one of Canada’s top natural springs, and is host to a fish hatchery, species at risk, unique tufa mineral features, hiking trails and picnic areas. Given its proximity to Calgary, Cochrane, and Airdrie, the Park is extensively used by locals, and welcomes 250,000 visitors per year. In 2020, the province made significant upgrades to the park, which are now compromised by proposed gravel extraction.
Large-scale gravel pit development threatens the natural environment and habitat that relies on the Park. Species at risk located in the region were not considered in Mountain Ash’s development plan, particularly, two species – the grizzly bear and bull trout - protected under the Species at Risk Act. Impacts to the Park’s spring and creek were also flagged as a primary concern, but the proponent did not provide any risk mitigation measures or studies that will guarantee the protection of the Park’s water table.
Small-scale beekeepers located less than 1 km away from the pit raised concerns about how extraction will impact the bee population in the region. Beekeepers play a key role in helping bees to survive and thrive in the Rocky View region, and bees are critical in the pollination process for local agricultural crops. Bees were also discounted in the proponent’s plan.
The Mountain Ash development plan fails to provide meaningful intentions and solutions to protect the Park’s natural environment, which raises additional concerns as to why Council would approve an incomplete application and approve the plan without a due democratic process that encompasses all stakeholders.
To sign the petition head to change.org and search the Save Big Hill Springs AB Provincial Park from Gravel Pit Development petition. For more information, follow and share the group’s Instagram @savebighillspringspark.