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B.C. Ministry of Environment to monitor Cheakamus quarry blasting

Resident complains after shock hits home



On August 24, Mary Protter was transferring her disabled daughter Morgan from her bed to her chair when her Cheakamus Crossing home started to shake.

In her surprise she nearly dropped Morgan to the floor, which could have resulted in an injury and at the very least would have required two people to pick her up.

Her first thought was that it was an earthquake; quakes had been felt in the Lower Mainland and were in the news recently, along with warnings that the "big one" was still on its way. On further investigation she realized that it was blasting at the nearby quarry owned by Whistler Aggregates - the same site in the news so often regarding the Alpine Paving asphalt plant.

Husband Adam Protter then noticed that there was a new crack along his front walkway alongside the foundation of the garage. He had filled the previous crack with diatomaceous earth to prevent an ant infestation, and the crack was showing once again.

Concerned, Protter contacted the municipality, the Whistler 2020 Development Corporation, his strata and the Ministry of the Environment to find out if the blasts could be responsible for the cracking and what his options are going forward.

On Sept. 9, a representative from the ministry came to Protter's home, armed with data from the blast and assurances that things will be different in the future.

While Whistler Aggregates is allowed to blast on the site, provincial engineer Eddy Taje said that their permit would have to be updated in recognition of the neighbourhood.

"It's a really old permit, and when it was done there was nothing (no neighbourhood) here," he said.

"The permit was issued prior to anybody being here, which is why nobody was warned about it by a notification. It was something we did not look at."

Protter said the worst thing was not knowing what it was.

"When the explosion happened it just sent a shiver down our spines," he said. "There was no warning at all. We've been here 15 years, we've heard explosions with construction and the highway, but there's usually signage, notes in the paper, blast mats. They didn't shake or rattle your house, and scare you."

Protter also pointed out that his house was on the other end of the development from the quarry, and wondered if it could have damage other buildings that are a lot closer.

From now on, the terms of Whistler Aggregates' operating permit will be adjusted to bring it into compliance with other quarry permits in the region. That means the owner will be required to post notice of future blasting at least 24 hours in advance to -within an hour to an hour-and-a-half - and to monitor the affect of the blast in terms of seismic shockwaves and noise. The company already had installed a device to measure seismic waves at the Whistler Athletes Centre, but now that device will be required to be maintained and recalibrated professionally.

According to Taje, the Aug. 24 blast was far too small to shake the foundations of the home or damage the concrete, and the home shaking was like related to a shockwave of air from the blast. He acknowledged that it was a big one - about 89 or 90 decibels, but still well below the 120 dB allowed by the permit. Some permits allow up to 133 dB, although Taje said that would not be permitted anywhere near a residential area.

Last year Whistler Aggregates only did one blast on their quarry site, and historically has only averaged four blasts per year. This year the operator has indicated that they may apply for one additional blast, said Taje, for a total of two.

As for the blast, not only was it within limits it was also done using precise amounts of blasting powder to bring down the rock face.

Under the permit, the operator is expected to blast in the designated timeframe - usually an hour-and-a-half at the most, but the ministry does make allowances for things to happen outside of the operators' control that could delay a blast. Generally they would have until sunset that night to do their blast, and if it doesn't take place for whatever reason they would have to post notice again.

Protter was disappointed to learn that the company could set off larger blasts in the future, but with advance notice and monitoring he said he is satisfied with the resolution. He's also installing a ceiling track in his daughters' room to make it easier to transfer her from her bed.

As for the cracks in the concrete, he has brought it up with the property management company and is hoping that repairs will be covered by warranty.